“Charles Jones: WILDERNESS: The Western Edge of a Dream,” Kiosk Gallery

“WILDERNESS: The Western Edge of a Dream” is full of mystery and enigma, a dream-like contemplation of natural history and urban archeology. Living and working in KC and Boston, artist Charles Jones provides a magical view of the American Midwest.

According to Jones, “WILDERNESS” is an exhibition of works in progress, but stepping into the Kiosk Gallery you’d be forgiven for mistaking the high-quality drawing and maquettes for finished artworks.

Two artworks, both titled Unknown Species, depict a fictitious animal similar to an elk. An enormous seven-by-three-foot charcoal drawing shows the creature’s silhouette and enormous long horns. The deep black charcoal and white paper is contrasted by purple watercolor used on the animal’s hooves. Complementing the silhouette drawing is an aluminum casting of the animal’s muscular torso and head. Jones says that these two artworks are sketches for a much larger aluminum sculpture he hopes to create, complete with amethyst resin hooves.

The creature itself, with the muscular bulk of a draft horse but with a head and antlers more similar to an antelope, is reminiscent of both extinct, prehistoric megafauna and contemporary hybrids like ligers (lion-tiger hybrids) or grolar bears (grizzly-polar bear hybrids). Such hybrids sometimes grow larger than either of their parent species.

Both versions of Unknown Species capture the wonder of discovery that must have been felt by early explorers and scientists as they sailed across the world, catching glimpses of animals that had never been imagined by western society. The artworks capture a more modern sensibility of horror too: the dread embodied in stories like Jurassic Park or The Island of Dr. Moreau, but also the more recent, and not at all fictional, genetic experiments at Stanford University by Hiromitsu Nakauchi to create embryos of sheep-human chimeras.

A third artwork, titled Transit, is a maquette for a proposed installation based on a fire escape in the West Bottoms. While the door or window was sealed and bricked over long ago, the old steel fire escape still hangs on the side of the building. Jones’ maquette faithfully recreates the fire escape on a miniature scale in welded steel and encaustic, setting it against a graphite evocation of the weathered building. A sculpture of a broken porcelain doll, cast in translucent orange resin, hangs above the miniature fire escape, casting a glowing orange shadow onto the encaustic paint. As with Unknown Species, Jones hopes to translate this model into actual scale and place it inside a gallery.

Jones calls the fire escape a skeleton, comparing it to a dead buffalo left to rot in the sun until only its bones remain. The rusting metal balcony and ladder are probably unsafe and unused by a human in decades. While many people would never even notice this bit of forgotten architecture, Jones has been photographing it and studying it for some time, treating it with a respect and fascination often reserved for archeological ruins or historic landmarks.

“WILDERNESS: The Western Edge of a Dream” is an exhibition about the Midwest, but not as most residents experience it. Jones presents it not as a fully mapped civilization, but as an unknown wilderness. His artworks engage in a fantastic, magical thinking, where the dead buffalo of the Wild West have been replaced with the dead architecture of the Rust Belt. His vision is not about historical truth, but instead embraces a dreamy, enigmatic anti-realism where the prehistoric, historic and contemporary exist side by side. This is the chief accomplishment of his exhibition. Jones is able to draw inspiration from science and history, without adopting their clinical objectivity, an objectivity which has nothing to do with the mystery and subjectivity of art.

“Charles Jones: WILDERNESS/The Western Edge Of A Dream” continues at the Kiosk Gallery, 916 E. 5th St., through July 7. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Friday and noon to 4 p.m. Saturday. For more information, 816-519-7717 or kioskgallerykc.com.

Neil Thrun

Neil Thrun is a writer and artist living in Kansas City, Missouri. He is a 2010 graduate of the Kansas City Art Institute and was a resident artist with the Charlotte Street Urban Culture Project in 2011 and 2012. He has written for publications including the Kansas City Star, Huffington Post and other local arts journals.

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