John Kirchner and Michael Dennis are two ultra-creative artists on opposing sides of the county, both well worth seeing on Rappahannock Association for Art and Community’s 11th annual Artists of Rappahannock Studio & Gallery Tour this Nov. 7-8.
Born in Michigan and raised mostly in Rhode Island, conceptual artist Kirchner lived in Europe for five years and has resided in Woodville for 22. Over a span of more than 30 years he has showed his work in New York as well as at the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, Conner Contemporary Art in Washington, D.C., and Rappahannock’s own Middle Street Gallery many moons ago.
Influenced by the likes of modernists Diego Rivera and Damien Hirst, Kirchner says he’s “always chased my [creative] ideas around,” preferring to “ruminate on things.” He adds: “There has to be a really good reason to create things.”
Kirchner was raised in a home filled with Charles and Ray Eames’ modern furniture, and had an architect for a father. “So, design was a necessity,” he said, “like food.”
In fact, Kirchner began his studies in architecture, heading to the prestigious Architectural Association School of Architecture in London after two years at New York’s Pratt Institute.
His art focus flipped on its head when, after a dozen years of painting and “sculpting on the side,” a Manhattan art dealer became more intrigued with his sculpture.
Now his creations range from a marble table with a cut-out rectangle, and high-heeled shoes with long wooden handles he calls a “Yoo tool,” to framed assorted items evoking thought in the viewer’s mind.
One repeated theme are cut outs — holes in books, shirts, flags. “I like to end up with less than I started,” he explained. This minimalistic view carries over to his lovely home and studio, which are lightly decorated.
Vogue magazine highlighted Kirchner’s “Occidental Man,” now on exhibit at his studio: A simple stack of books with a man’s jacket (his) draped over the precipice. “You are what you read,” Kirchner quipped of his piece.
Kirchner has also been featured in the New York Times, the Village Voice and The Washington Post.
In Kirchner’s artist statement, he says “Creativity is being in genesis, the discarnate truth, the apostasy of scientific realism … I create to spiritualize matter, to purify and sanctify substance.” With this gentleman’s curriculum vitae, one would be wise to sanctify his creativity while his studio is open to the public in November.
Also new to the art tour this year is Michael Dennis, who celebrates the inauguration of his beautiful new home studio in Flint Hill, where he moved in 2012 and now creates his “artist’s books.”
Born into an artistically supportive home in Rapid City, South Dakota, Dennis founded and owned a Georgetown-based graphic design firm for 30 years. He designed exhibitions on art, music and dance for the Library of Congress for the last decade.
Holding a graphic design degree from American University and a master’s in design from George Washington University, Dennis studied traditional handcraft bookbinding in graduate school. Later, he taught design, typography and book arts for GWU and American University for 25 years.
In 2002, Dennis opened “Bookworks” — a combination used bookstore and book arts studio — in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia — and now in Flint Hill.
The binding printing and binding equipment “is fascinating to look at,” Dennis explained of the 1890 board shear and the German standing press, circa 1920, now in his studio.
Dennis’ “artist’s books,” composed of abstract color studies carried out in a medium which he developed, are “made one book at a time,” each one unique. One “concertina” book took “600 hours to fabricate,” he explained.
“Paper mosaics or mosaic collage,” as Dennis calls his one-of-a-kind creations, are composed of inlaid tiny pieces of colored paper used to form a seamless “planographic” surface. “By taking out one [color] hue,” he explained, “it changes the pattern and look [of his mosaics]” — similar to what they do in the fabric business.
Kevin “KC” Bosch, a guest artist of Dennis, will be also exhibiting his hot-off-the-press book of poetry incorporating “art photos” — most of which were taken in Rappahannock all by the 22-year county resident — to be published soon, thanks to a RAAC Mitchell Fund grant.
A long-time poet, Bosch exclaimed, “Winning the grant was like winning the Academy Award!” Dennis surmised that funding Bosch’s publication “is exactly the intent” set forth by RAAC for Mitchell Fund recipients.
There will be a limited number of collaborative artist’s books made by Dennis of Bosch’s poetry and photos available on the tour as well.