Artifact is a perfect word for Kia Neill’s work, which depicts fictional organisms and landscapes that are a seamless blend of artifice and reality. She is clear to make this distinction: her artwork is not a testament to the factual discipline of biology, even if her aesthetic is derived from it. She creates “simulations of nature with an emphasis on embellishment that result in seductive fantasized versions”. Neill is interested in commercial replications of nature (she loves “gorgeously gaudy knick-knacks”), and how the artifices in those replications point to deeper cultural desires. With a healthy dose of fantasy, she believes that “the reality of an abstract nature constructed through commercial culture…tends to be more enchanted, majestic, adventurous”.
Neill has a remarkably vivacious, high-energy presence, and her interests have been described as “all over the place”—qualities that she embraces whole heartedly in her art making. Both her sculptural and 2D sensibilities are drenched in technicolor and shattered light, the work of a playful daydreamer who capitalizes on the freedom to explore all of her curiosities and appreciates the element of surprise. Her artistic mark includes everything from glittering shards of CDs forming cave-like environments, to stuffed buffaloes and topographical drawings painstakingly formed with the most delicate of lines.
Neill’s synthetic take on nature naturally extends to her medium and process. For her paintings she often opts for polypropylene, a synthetic paper that does not absorb the wet medium she applies. She then uses a hairdryer to manipulate puddles of thinned pigment on paper, which accumulate into lines and layers that recall “ridges of clam shells, linear folds of sedimentary layers, or jagged tree lines of alpine forest”. For additional texture, she employs the sediment accumulated in cups of watered down paint left out for months. These drawings belong somewhere between a scientific periodical and a storybook, what she calls a “mythical taxonomy”. Featuring glowing globules of candied color overlaid with delicate veins of line, she creates “fantasy artifacts” that embody her interest in the “relationship between the real and the fake.”
Kia Neill hails from Chicago but has been in Houston since 2006 and is currently a full-time faculty member at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston Glassell School of Art. She teaches Photoshop and digital photography, both dedicated to the modern interpretation of visual reality. She received her BFA from The Columbus College of Art and Design in Columbus, Ohio, and her MFA from the University of California in San Diego. She has had solo exhibitions at Conduit Gallery Project Space, the Jung Center, Lawndale Art Center, and Women & Their Work Gallery.
Written by Julie Keselman.