Artist Pages | Kyle Selley: Celestial Abstractions

Emerging artist Kyle Selley represents an explosive addition to the ranks of Kansas City abstractionists. For the past four years, the 2017 alum of the Kansas City Art Institute has been painting with fireworks, inspired by the example of renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang and his own history of growing up with fireworks, particularly during visits to his uncle’s property in Eastern Kansas.

“Everyone feels nostalgia and fascination when it comes to fireworks,” Selley said during a recent visit to his studio near Paseo Academy. “Mine is just heightened. It was a big part of my childhood.”

The works that result from his materials and process are “naturally celestial,” in Selley’s words. Part of it is the color — blues and blacks — combined with the appearance of spherical forms like planets and hazy passages suggestive of infinite space. All of these elements are present in the alluring, four-part work on paper, “Infinite Horizon.” Selley says he hopes to provide the viewer with the same feeling of the sublime that he experiences while creating the work.

Wearing goggles, a respirator and gloves and with a fire extinguisher ready to hand, Selley puts his fireworks through their paces. Sometimes he’ll use one much like a brush or can of spray paint, directing it to create meandering patterns reminiscent of Jackson Pollock’s drips.

In the painting on canvas, “Ethereal Sublime,” he places bowls over lit fireworks to achieve the planetary forms. But he also loves the chance aspect of letting a firework “do its thing”: spinning or crawling across the paper leaving random stuttering marks or creating burn holes in his canvas and paper supports. “I’ll never forget the unique marks they created after being ignited on my uncle’s driveway,” he says.

Smoke bombs provide the color in these works, adding a metallic tinge to some pieces, or yielding a brilliant purple underlayment in works such as “Burning through Layers,” made by lighting fireworks on a tan sheet of paper placed over a purple smoke-bombed sheet. Smoke bombs are also responsible for the episodes of brilliant blue galactic incident in “Infinite Horizon” and “Ethereal Sublime.” Amorphous passages of blue highlight the dark backdrop of the roughly 5-by-12-foot “Ephemeral Cosmos,” featuring a network of chalky, quasi-figural, linear forms, like constellations come to life.

Selley exhibited many of his firework abstractions in a one-person show at Vulpes Bastille last spring; this winter he plans to experiment with combining fireworks and ceramics, building on his background in sculpture and pottery from two years at Johnson County Community College. The test works are intriguing, including vessels pierced with jagged holes from fireworks inserted in the wet clay.

Three works by Selley, including “Infinite Horizon,” are on view in the “Bits and Pieces” exhibit at InterUrban ArtHouse, 8001 Newton St., Overland Park, through Nov. 15. For exhibit information, www.interurbanarthouse.com; for more about Selley, visit www.kyleselley.com.

Alice Thorson

Alice Thorson is the editor of KC Studio. She has written about the visual arts for numerous publications locally and nationally.

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