Contemporary artist Kim Buck, who already has a number of sell-out shows under her belt, knows how turn a piece of burnt stick into a symphony of immaculately sculpted forms. Like a concert pianist who summons life from the black and white keys of their instrument, Buck draws every nuance of tonality from the black and white of her chosen medium, charcoal, bringing her figures into an almost palpable existence. It’s not just the apparent virtuosity that intrigues. Buck goes beyond skin deep to ask the big questions about who we are as a species and as individuals. Art World Women caught up with Kim to ask her what answers she has discovered so far.
AWW: “How do we maintain some sense of equilibrium, as a species and as individuals, within this large and formidable universe?” is a question you have posed with the falling figures in “On Sisyphean Certainty”. What are your own thoughts on this?
KB: Oh gosh… straight to the heart of it! I dare say this will be a constant source of questioning for me, and probably many others, for as long as we’re able to question. As we’ve all experienced, just as we seem to find our footing with something – whether it be life circumstances, work, relationships or family – this large and formidable universe seems to delight in flinging something else into the mix to throw us off balance again! I’m slowly learning to be grateful for these destabilisers rather than afraid of them, though, and I’m slowly starting to understand that perhaps the universe isn’t all that fearsome after all. I think we’re here to grow and I really think that it and all of its challenges are here to encourage and induce our expansion… although that of course usually only becomes clear with hindsight…
AWW: Your exhibition Landscapes at Jan Murphy Gallery in 2011, showed exquisitely detailed figures drawn in all manner of supine positions in stark light. What is the relationship between the human body and the land in your view?
KB: My thoughts on this have changed quite significantly over the past few years. I did a series of three large works called Clash (exhibited in On Sisyphean Certainty, 2010) in which I was interested in exploring how small and powerless we insignificant little humans are in the vastness of space and time. It seems all a bit melodramatic now – I think I may have been feeling a little overwhelmed by life! Now I kind of feel that we share a much greater connection with our environment – call it the landscape or the universe or even deep time – than I ever imagined. We can’t help but be in and of it. We’re a part of it and it’s a part of us.
The work in Landscapes was inspired by this, and specifically by the epic and magnificent scenery of the Blue Mountains, where I was living at the time. I have always had a strong connection with nature (particularly mountains) and felt it very powerfully amongst the scarps of Katoomba. The more time I spent there, wandering and listening and talking to the mountains, the more I came to recognise the parallels between their terrain and our own bodies; their journey and our own. We’re simply a faster kind of sandstone than those ancient mountains – deposited, compressed, uplifted and carried away all in a matter of years. Sometimes I wonder whether drawing is my attempt to slow this erosion? Perhaps. Either way, it was impossible to live in that landscape and not be inspired to respond.
AWW: You were studying psychology and “stumbled” into drawing, what motivated you to take it further to study and exhibit?
KB: I was a little lost when I found drawing. I’d deferred my psych degree by then and was working full time in hospitality waiting for some kind of new inspiration to strike. The first time I put charcoal to paper I knew I’d found it. It was kind of like being able to understand a foreign language without any training or expectation… I could just speak charcoal. It was bizarre. I played around with it for a few months and then realised that maybe I could take it more seriously. I’d never in a million years considered the possibility of being an artist, and didn’t have a clue how to go about it, but it all just fell into place. I had a small exhibition about 6 months after I began drawing and the buzz and satisfaction and inspiration I felt encouraged me to start art school soon after. I’ve been fortunate to be able to exhibit regularly ever since.
AWW: Your exhibition “Conatus” of 2009 seemed to speak to the very core of the human condition, a will to exist and striving for something more. Has your interest in psychology influenced your subject matter?
KB: Absolutely. I’ve always been fascinated by the human mind/spirit and so it naturally continues to inform the conceptual underpinnings of my work. Perhaps it’s got something to do with being a scorpio, or perhaps it was a childhood spent between the pages of the stories in my family’s bookshop… whatever the reason, I’ve always been driven by a need to understand what this strange existence is all about, why we are here and why we behave in the ways we do. That’s what drew me to study psychology in the first place. Unfortunately I found the course very dry and very frustratingly lacking in answers to all of those big questions! These days I’m very happy reading my own way through everything from psychology to cosmology to mythology. I’m grateful to be a reader. Every time I pick up a new book I get a little shiver of anticipation that the secret mysteries of the universe may just be revealed between its pages.
AWW: Kim you handle a charcoal pencil like a conductor does a baton with a symphony orchestra. Michael Reid describes you as possessing “the skills akin to an old master” How did you develop and hone your skills?
KB: As I mentioned, I was incredibly fortunate to have had some kind of innate understanding of charcoal from the very beginning. Of course I have spent many a long hour training since then, but there was something a little magical about that first contact of pencil on paper, where it just seemed to go/do/be whatever I wanted it to. The funny thing is, that despite that ease, it’s never been easy. I never feel like I master charcoal. It’s an endlessly challenging and often very frustrating process of attempting to gain some level of control over this inherently uncontrollable material. I guess that’s what keeps me interested! Some day I would love to learn to paint, or even sculpt, but for now charcoal and I are nowhere near finished with each other!
AWW: What is it like for you to draw and spend many a disciplined and patient hour in the creation of a single work?
KB: That is a question asked by someone who knows what it’s like!
It can be very, very intense at times. I am someone who naturally needs a lot of solitude but I really have to be careful to balance out long hours in the studio with social time or I go a little nutty. It can often feel terribly ungratifying to spend day after day, week after week chipping away at a work. Sometimes it feels like it will never reach completion. But eventually of course, a point comes where I am satisfied enough to put the pencils down. Those few minutes looking at the finished work are such a minute fraction of the time invested in its making, but they are pretty special. When I first began drawing I was very outcome-focussed but I’m learning to recognise the value in honouring the process of the making itself more and more – and to be grateful for seemingly quite decent reserves of discipline and patience!
AWW: What materials do you use?
KB: These days I have a fairly limited handful of materials – a couple of General’s charcoal pencils (usually a HB or two and a 4B), a compressed paper stump and a Staedtler pencil eraser. I go through a ton of these! They’re great for both blending and erasing. I also use a razor blade occasionally for highlights and black charcoal pastels for the dark backgrounds. In terms of paper I prefer either Canson 224gsm drawing paper or University cartridge.
AWW: What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
KB: I love the challenge of creation. I love testing my own limits – artistically, intellectually, emotionally and physically. I love the freedom – and oftentimes, fear – in charting my own course. I enjoy having the opportunity to contribute in some small way to our wider cultural conversation.
AWW: What is next for you?
KB: I’m about to begin a project I’m really excited about – a group exhibition called HEARTLAND at The Art Gallery of South Australia in June next year. Its themes of landscape and identity fit perfectly with my current interest in exploring the relationship between self and environment and the intersection between landscape conventions and figurative traditions.
AWW: What do you listen to while you work?
KB: This is my favourite question to ask other artists! I find I work sooo much better when I’m really engaged in listening to something, whether it’s music or a good podcast or Radio National. I listen to each of those things at various stages throughout the day. I like starting the morning with RN (Life Matters and Books and Arts Daily) then usually move on to a podcast or audiobook and finish the day with some music and a bit of silly dancing around the studio. It’s a fine and delicate balance – too much music can be a bit emotionally intense but too much spoken word mentally draining. A bit of both is great.
AWW: Okay Kim, so now to the BIG question… what’s your guilty pleasure?
KB: Chocolate coated figs. In fact, figs in any way, shape or form.
See more of Kim Buck:
Website: Kim Buck artist