“Robert Bingaman: The Night Window,” Haw Contemporary

“The Night Window,” Robert Bingaman

“The Night Window” is a view through a glass darkly into Robert Bingaman’s nocturnal (and some daytime) wanderings. As in previous work, he explores bodies of water, including pools, lakes and oceans, in paintings on canvas and in pigment ink prints.

Bingaman’s artist statement is as oblique as the paintings are enigmatic, wherein he asks, “What if?” He describes a dream, and in the end of the soliloquy, asks “What else will you speak through my night window?”

Almost all the works are unpeopled, presenting us with a somewhat detached point of reference, as the scenes are not mitigated by a human body to provide context. However,

Bingaman’s landscapes, poolscapes and waterscapes do suggest presence — who/what was there at one time — and absence — are the spaces abandoned or are we really in them passively observing some kind simple enjoyment: a backyard pool with slide, or, conversely, the unfathomable depths of a haze-shrouded pool.

“Smoke Pool 2,” 2021, acrylic on canvas, 51” x 39”

“Smoke Pool 3” suggests an abandoned pool choked in smoke. We may be reminded of Californians who miraculously survived the fires by submerging in a backyard pool, and yet here the pool feels pitiless and capable of drowning escapees. Conversely the orange and pink haze of “Smoke Pool 2” may suggest that the sun has risen on this scenario. Maybe this is the pool that saved lives. Without further context in which to place the pools, they are secretive; additionally, Bingaman has sanded some paintings’ surfaces to reveal pigment beneath, yet meaning is obscured. In “Smoke Pool 1,” pink and dark blue push against one another, perhaps implying the pleasure and pain of life’s beauty and disappointment.

In “Court 8 (Tahoe),” spindly trees rise up from the land surrounding empty tennis courts in the background, all washed in pink light, which here feels sickly. Are they the survivors of the recent California fires and does the painting speak to survival or to mortality?

Despite the disquietude, Bingaman does offer comfort: the light from the cabin of “Tanglewood” pierces night. In “Akwesasne,” a figure canoes into shore to a cabin whose railing is festooned with floaties, towels and other welcome gear of a human gathering, all reflected in the lake’s surface. In “Float,” a yellow inflatable and pink noodle float in an inviting backyard pool. And “August” shows another sparkling blue pool bathed in pink light.

“Float,” Robert Bingaman

Blue and pink tonalities dominate Bingaman’s paintings, and as novelist and philosopher William Gass noted in his philosophical inquiry, “On Being Blue,” “Blue is therefore most suitable as the color of interior life.” Bingaman’s paintings validate Gass’s musings; his colors and scenes often seem to exist outside of the real, whatever that is, and instead push us toward his and our own emotional interiority.

“Robert Bingaman: The Night Window” continues at Haw Contemporary, 1600 Liberty St., through Nov. 27. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information 816.842.5877 or www.hawcontemporary.com

Dana Self

Dana Self is an arts writer who was a contemporary art curator for more than 13 years at museums in Kansas, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Missouri, including Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art. She has organized roughly 100 exhibitions of emerging and midcareer artists. She is also marketing director for UMKC Conservatory.

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