Discover Dominic Chambers’s Dreamy Paintings of Kite-Filled Skies
The artist’s new exhibition at Lehmann Maupin coincides with his first institutional show in his hometown, St. Louis
Whenever Dominic Chambers left the school bus to visit St. Louis Art Museum in his childhood years, he would find himself mesmerized by the kites floating above the lush hills surrounding the historic institution. The colorful abstractions peppering the lofty building’s ornate facade felt “wondrous and surreal,” said the artist “and made the idea of visiting a museum exciting.” Now, Chambers is presenting his first institutional solo exhibition at his hometown, aptly titled “Birthplace” at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, where a large scale painting replicates those early memories.
Titled Kites at Art Hill (2023), the monumental scale painting depicts Chambers’s recollections of his first interactions with art through a crisp whimsy: red and yellow kites in geometric shapes glide through a sharp rainbow and puffy clouds amidst a bright blue sky. Art Hill is awash with hues of the green grass and park-goers climbing up towards the column-lined museum entrance. ‘Kites felt like signals to alert my imagination,” he shares from his studio in New Haven.
The thirty-year old moved to Connecticut to study for his MFA degree at Yale University, and since graduating in 2019, he has built a repertoire of dream-like hazy paintings through a lens he describes as “an intersection of Black life leisure and magical realism.” After initially turning his eye towards instances of stillness and contemplation, he has recently imposed himself the challenge of rendering “active leisure towards a transformative moment.” As well as the poetic geometry of a kite freely wandering the sky, Chambers is intrigued by the kinetic performance of leisure, as opposed to the stillness of rest. From Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca’s suggestion of leisure as an investment of inner reality to American poet Mary Oliver’s invitation to observe the world with passion as a form of leisure, the artist has been immersed in a plethora of literary observations.
The outcome of Chambers’s journey into self-making through leisure is also the subject of a new exhibition at Lehmann Maupin, titled “Leave Room for the Wind”. Pulled from a line in Oliver’s lengthy poem “The Leaf and the Cloud,” the show’s name both sends an invitation to fly a kite in the sky and underlines the challenge to depict wind blowing in a painting. The six large-scale paintings at the Chelsea gallery are the largest works Chambers has ever created and each assumes a monochromatic palette.
The titular painting is engulfed in shades of blue, showing two children navigating their phantom kites through a landscape dominated by hints of green and yellow. The kites’ spectral transparency alludes at a dream, wrapped in the artist’s nocturnal shades and a liquid nature. At an eighty inches by hundred-eighty inches scale, Roslyn lights up a fiery celebration of the color red, with five children guiding their kites into a scorching sky. Three squid forms tied to strings occupy the air in lieu of a familiar geometry; their flapping tails recall a dancing fire and signal an alarming storm.
The sky dominates each composition with determined brushstrokes along with washy depictions of the earth. ‘I’ve kept going back to the sky because you never see the same image twice,” explains Chambers. “Dreamscapes,” he calls the nature’s own aerial paintings, “and they offer a way to engage with reverie every time we lift our heads up.” Receiving his driving license a few years ago and traveling through New England’s optic marvels throughout the seasons ushered him towards the epiphany, as well as Oliver’s “Wild Geese” poem in which the lines read, “Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination…”
Chambers is still dabbling with the challenge of painting the wind. “I like that this an ongoing question,” he admits. A kite’s smooth motion in the air and turbulent painterly gestures are two common ways he captures the wind. Waving trees under massive clouds in traditional Dutch paintings inspire him to contemplate further about “creating transparency with color,” which are vivid in the show’s Kingdom and The Weather in Space paintings. A misty silhouette of a children’s playground inhabits the former’s almost entirely black-painted landscape; a massive constellation of stars hovers above a nearly neon pink earth in the latter.