Return to Articles


October 4 - November 29, 2008 at LA Contemporary, Culver City

by Roberta Carasso

"Pallet: Glass", 2001-2008, glass,
chrome plated hardware, 42" x 45" x 5".

"Alert: Orange/Ocher/White", 2005-
2008, latex paint on canvas, 60" x 48".

"I/H beam: Glass", 2008, tempered
glass, chrome plated brackets,
96" x 12.5" x 15", Edition of 3.

"Dusted: Lt blue/Dk Blue/Yellow",
2001-2008, latex paint and
chalk on canvas, 84" x 72".

"Compression: Black/Brown/Silver",
2005-2008, latex paint and
enamel on canvas, 64" x 96".

Whether working in a two or three-dimensional mode, Kavin Buck’s art seems deliberately symmetrical, and vertical or horizontal in shape and form. In this exhibition, representing six years of work, there is an intentional straightness requiring exact measurements and extreme labor intensity. His sculptures, in particular, exude functionality, something akin to miniature architectural renderings of Los Angeles high-rises, three-dimensional long shafts of aluminum and glass placed at precise right angles. Most of Buck’s painting, but not all, are ribbon stripes of tight colors--a pale orange stripe next to a white stripe repeated several times, and then the same color pattern spaced further apart and again repeated. Or, he might use a pale blue against white, at times darkening an intermediary stripe to give further definition.

Entitled “Dusted,” the flat latex paint and chalk surface on canvas give the appearance of precision, deliberately measured and mathematical. Unlike the sculptures, and distinct from other paintings is “Compression.” In tones of black, brown, and silver, a small horizontal striped area is invaded by freely applied strokes of similar tones. Although it is still ribbon-like, the surrounding area is more like spools of ribbons randomly spilled over the canvas --the juxtaposition of a free against a controlled application of paint. Taken as a whole, but not in every case, Buck’s canvasses appear to be of paint meticulously applied to the flat surface, while his sculptures are built with precision tools, replete with right-angled configurations made from contrasting clear and opaque materials in an architectural manner.

Buck, who grew up in a blue collar milieu in Orange County, is a white, straight, forty-something male, husband and father. He bemoans that he was never and still is not part of any social revolution. To overcome this rather ironic image of himself as an outsider, his art involves male identity, particularly referencing a blue collar construction type of masculinity.

To convey this, Buck ensures that everything is carefully hand made; nothing is manufactured, even though initially, the work seems as if it could have come from an assembly line turning out home gadgetry and rolls of wall paper. To make certain that everything has a hardware store character, he applies paint with rollers using only high-end paint such as Ralph Lauren colors and purchases only industrial objects and materials.

Putting a twist on the trompe l’oeil tradition, Buck turns stereotype on its head. His query into masculinity is extremely sophisticated, even jewel-like with sparkling glass and shiny aluminum. Handsome shipping palettes and I/H beams originally used in skyscraper construction, transformed from the practical to the impractical, from the decidedly male to the artistic, yet avoiding anything that might appear to be pedantic, in contrast to the feminine. The sculptures look incredibly heavy and yet are structurally fragile. The shipping palettes and I/H beams, if used in their original form would break immediately. Similarly, the paintings appear controlled but are not. Looking more closely, nothing is precise. They have an off-beat rhythm, the results of a human hand pushing a paint roller. The idea of control is further dispelled as Buck uses an industrial measurement technique with construction chalk. He snaps the line and achieves a dust pattern which cannot be easily controlled, further shattering another myth: what may appear real is an illusion.

Buck does not create the obvious, but rather deals with ambiguities and conflicts as he conveys metaphorically the contemporary male in a most telling way--the Home Depot male seen through new eyes. Besides combining strength and vulnerability, the exhibition makes a powerful point that today’s male is clever, intelligent and highly sensitive. Above all, he cannot  be placed in a stereotypical role. Despite his not being part of the feminine, multicultural, or gay and lesbian revolution, the exhibition implies that ultimately art’s quality depends on the individual artist’s perceptions and skill in bringing to fruition a profound and original idea. Certainly, Buck’s art proves this.