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"​​​​There is a kind of light we see emerging from darkness in a very subtle way which is called luminosity. It is the kind of light in nature that does not stem from heat as does the light from fire, from the sun, or from the reflection of incandescent light. A luminous object seems to have light as a part of its substance and/metabolism."
--Abstraction in Art & Nature, by Nathan Cabot Hale.

"Let your workings remain a mystery.
 Just show people the results."
-Tao Te Ching -Lao-tzu, Stephen Mitchell translation

​​“I like to contemplate landscapes especially. I imagine that the effects and play of light upon the shapes and surfaces of the Eastern Sierra are as dynamic and fascinating as anywhere in the world and hence the subject for the majority of my work.” So writes Dave Kirk, an artist of the Sierra Nevada who in his work brings to our eyes what John Muir meant when he called these mountains the ‘range of light.’”

 Dave Kirk spends much time alone with our magnificent mountains, contemplating their secret. It is not difficult to look at them and see their beauty. Dave goes deeper and builds a special intangible relationship with them. He captures their luminosity, the light that comes from within. The light is mysteriously there and he works to discover and capture it. Now he generously shares that inner perception with others through his painting.

 Dave identifies two main reasons why he paints. First, because he must. He says in his gentle yet strong voice, “Something inside drives you. I can’t imagine life without painting.” Second, “My job is caring for the landscape. Landscape is living. Landscape suffers if the perception of it is as something static. He embroiders his idea, “Going deeper it is difficult for me to put my ideas about landscape and nature into words. That’s why I paint.” He continues, “It is a symbiotic relationship, caring for landscapes. Painting gives me the opportunities to show what I think and feel about our landscapes and about their nature.”

There is a kind of meditation that Kirk uses in his process of painting. “I have to construct the composition by simplifying things. When my painting is matted and framed that means I got the noise out. If a painting doesn’t end up in a frame well, it was still an opportunity to learn something. I can use it as a study for another painting”

The artist talks more about method and trying new techniques and ideas. First he chooses a subject. Then he often returns, but varies his positioning. Some subjects he returns to again and again and gets very different paintings each time. His emotional moods create differences as do the lighting. “Oftentimes people make a connection with a particular painting because the subject is of a place where they had unique personal experiences.”

 Continuing his experiments which he likens to play he explains, “Part of the game is being in control but only to some degree. Instead of controlling I like to call it guiding. Let it do its thing. With too much control then to me it’s no longer art but a mere academic exercise.”

 After pausing in silence, Dave says, “Landscape, I believe, shapes culture and when a landscape is negatively altered or defaced, the culture is impoverished on many levels. From the mid nineteenth century to present art has played a remarkable role in the movement to protect landscapes and the living things that reside therein. In my own humble way, I would like to be part of that tradition by making art that sparks an awareness of our interrelatedness with nature and the landscape.”

What always strikes me in Dave’s work and in several special paintings, is how he illuminates the light coming from solid things. But this light emanates not from the surface but deeper in. He says, “I like watercolor because of the medium's ability to convey light and atmospheric effects and the often unpredictable interaction with the surface it's applied to. I also enjoy combining gouache and watercolor on colored paper or board in order to achieve those desired effects.”

 When Dave did a show at Manzanar on the Japanese process of Wabi Sabi, I asked him about whether his creative work is mostly unconscious. “This can go hand in hand with the simplification quality but the more I paint I’m discovering how important it is for me to capture not exactly what I’m seeing but instead how I feel about the subject combined with what I’m seeing. So there’s a combination of inward and outward. This can involve allowing the unconscious to have a part in guiding the work.”

After spending two interviews with Dave, and looking at his work, I still found his use of light in his work both mysterious and enlightening. I struggled for a month or two with what to call his technique, philosophy and artist’s aesthetic. As with his struggle using words to talk about what he captures with painting, I finally settled on “substantial luminosity.” Dave Kirk captures on paper our landscape’s substantial luminosity, a light that comes from within and becomes more than energy but instead almost material in nature and thus substantial. For me that makes Dave Kirk an amazing and important artist of our landscape.

Original Art Inspired By California's Eastern Sierra

Black Sheep Coffee Roasters
232 North Main Street
Bishop, CA
Spring and Summer 2022 

ABOVE: EAT II,  2013

            Watercolor, 16 x 20"

BELOW: Kaweah Gap from Nine Lake Basin, 2018

​            Watercolor, 16 x 20"

ABOVE: The Ashram, 2008 

             Watercolor 16 X 20"   

BELOW: Mt. Williamson, Winter Storm, 2017

            Watercolor and Gouache 18 X 24"                                                                                                                          

Substantial Luminosity


By Christopher Langley

​EYE ON INYO ARTISTS  Inyo Register Thursday, February 7th, 2019 Edition