“Darnell ‘Solo’ Kirkwood: Discoveries Along the Way,” Habitat Contemporary Gallery

Interior gallery shot, left to right: “Looks Can Be Deceiving,” “Some People Have To Learn The Hard Way,” personal glyphs and translation.  

“Discoveries Along the Way,” a one-person exhibition at Habitat Contemporary Gallery located inside Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, insists on the power of love, energy, and one’s superpowers. Darnell Kirkwood, better known as Solo the Artist, is a self-taught artist who has been actively creating imaginative and passionate paintings since the height of the pandemic.

In “Discoveries Along the Way” Solo’s uniquely endows his figures with crowns and tiaras, indicating they are wealthy in spirituality and inspiration. Many of his multimedia paintings offer a complex language for translation and contemplation. Solo describes some of his artworks as functioning as an “unconscious mirror” for his viewers, offering them encouragement and vision for their future selves. He provides QR codes for those who want to compare their interpretation of the message with Solo’s decoding of the symbols.

“Growth In Divine Evolution,” Acrylic on Canvas, 36” x 48” painting plus custom frame

Now based in Los Angeles, Solo returned to his hometown Kansas City in January 2023 to install three series of paintings after a long and fruitful journey to other parts of the world. After growing up in Kansas City, Solo played basketball in Denmark, worked as a model and actor in Florida and California, and has now found success as a visual artist in Los Angeles, after the entertainment industry took a hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic. He describes the experience of exhibiting his artwork at 2022 Art Basel in Miami Beach as being a break in his career, with the universe guiding him and his work due to his spiritual orientation and openness to the next step.

While in Kansas City to install his show at Habitat Contemporary, Solo took an hour off to speak to the visual art majors at Paseo Academy of Fine and Performing Arts. In sharing his experiences and his journey, he professed that the success he found has been inspired by conversations about life as well as his openness to being a vehicle for the communications of his ancestors.

“We Are All Responsible For The Energy,” Acrylic on Canvas, 48” x 30” painting plus custom frame

Robert Gann, director of Habitat Contemporary Gallery, explains, “‘Self-taught’ is how Solo describes himself, and his work illustrates all the benefits of this learning style. There is a freedom to the pieces that lack of formal training can propagate. That’s not to say there isn’t restraint on the artist’s behalf to create exceptionally refined work, but they are based on his own rules, not others’.”

Although Solo is self-taught and prides his work on not being directly inspired by the art historical canon or other creatives throughout history, his works still beg a comparison to other powerful works that have been speaking to viewers for centuries. Through Solo’s subject matter choices and style, one might recall the 15th- and 16th-century marriage portrait diptychs by Renaissance artists, the gestural and spontaneous mark making of the Abstract Expressionists or the iconic visual language of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Despite the visual similarities to works from art history, Solo’s works speak to what he calls “revelations,” a language of wisdom that he titles “F.E.E.L.” The artist describes this process as, “Creating art while being a vessel of (F)aith to possess the (E)nergy of (E)mpowerment through (L)ove.” Through the decoding of his expressive visual artworks, Solo the Artist offers viewers a chance to look deep within themselves to translate and decode their own revelations.

“Discoveries Along the Way” continues at Habitat Contemporary, 2012 Baltimore Ave., through Feb. 17. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, habitatcontemporary.com.

Ashley Lindeman

Ashley Lindeman is an art historian, educator, and arts writer. She recently earned her Ph.D. from Florida State University, and she works full time as Assistant Professor of Humanities at Johnson County Community College.

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