On The Edges
by Betsy DiJulio
VEER Magazine 07/15/09

An artist’s daunting job is to create a world, to pull us into it, and to make us believe it, if only for a time. Colin Ginks successfully sucks us in and out to “the edges” in the world he has created. According to gallery owner, Lorrie Saunders, Ginks, who was born in England and has led a “nomadic” existence”, uses his “outsider’s” perspective to create “a chronology of Virginia history.” In a particularly thought-provoking statement, the artist explains: “I acutely feel the tension between the manicured, civilized face Virginia wishes to present, and the threats at its edges; the wildness of nature, the shadow of history and an uncertain future.”

Yet, a journey through this world reveals a perplexing absence of much that is specifically or overtly Virginian. But that is precisely the kind of chasm between artwork and stated intent that one hopes for, as too much specificity frequently presents a flat-footed illustration rather than an encompassing universality a la “the human condition” such as one discovers here.

What one finds formally within Ginks’ world, when he is at his best, is some of the most beautifully rendered passages in oil paint imaginable in a palette that is rich and complex without being fussed over. But his approach to color throughout this body of work is inconsistent; he either really hits or really misses, sometimes lacking the expressionistic restraint of an acknowledged inspiration artist like Francis Bacon. The same holds true of composition. He is best when he exploits diagonals to create contained interior-exterior hybrid spaces.

Among the most formally and conceptually successful pieces in the show is “Yum,” an intentional quotation of Edouard Manet’s controversial “Olympia,” which depicts a nude light-skinned woman reclining on her day bed as a dark-skinned servant presents her with flowers. In Gink’s adaptation, his reclining bikini-clad woman is proudly bulbous and dark-skinned with a pierced navel and extremely long rainbow-painted acrylic nails. Her hand grips an ice cream cone which appears to have dripped out of the painting and into our space leaving a sculptural puddle on the floor below. The space where Manet’s servant once stood has been replaced by a flat white silhouette as though the servant has been cut out, leaving the meaning ambiguously clear. Ginks’ impressionistic handling of the painted cloth will make your mouth water if the ice cream cone doesn’t.

Interspersed with the oil paintings are wonderfully fluid watercolors on beautiful paper mounted simply with clips. They serve almost as interludes between the more “serious” oil paintings, like glimpses into the artist’s sketchbook. It is clear that, like most artists, Ginks thinks differently when working in different media. A published novelist, he is comfortable with words and incorporates them into, or around, his watercolors. However, if the work in this show is any indication, it seems that he should keep his literary and his artistic pursuits separate until he works out a more successful way to marry the two.

Among the strongest watercolors is “Kirn Memorial,” a play on words in that Ginks has created a memorial to the aged Norfolk library, demolished and relocated to make way for a light rail passenger station. The two-part triptych—not the oxymoron it seems—consists of a trio of paintings on the wall underneath of which is a trio of found objects on the floor. The “juicy” watercolors—a series of immediate and fresh architectural sketches in a palette of turquoise and rust—depict an incremental break-down into near non-objectivity. In combination with the installation components, the piece becomes, well, memorable. The three mini-monoliths below the paintings possess both the worn patina of age and a kind of noble strength. Signifying both structure and headstone, these blocks of construction—or destruction—debris add layers of meaning to the piece.

With a strong connection to Hampton Roads by virtue of the title, “Kirn Memorial” nonetheless resonates with universal themes, a metaphor for one of the elements that is most significant about this body of work and echoed in the accompanying artist-created soundtrack.