By Diane Y. Welch
While browsing stores in New York’s Chinatown, San Diego artist Kim MacConnel happened upon a small clip art booklet. The images on the pages of “Collection of Applied Design,” published in Hong Kong, appeared as a disorganized mix void of categorization to him.
“Light bulbs went off in my head, I thought it was hilarious. How would one use this?” MacConnel said in a recent interview. But the booklet became a rich source of inspiration and he recreated similar graphic images by using calligraphy applied by brush — at least 10 years worth of work emerged.
Now MacConnel’s first full-career retrospective, titled “Collection Applied Design” in homage to the booklet, will be on view at the La Jolla branch of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), opening Oct. 9 and running through Jan. 23.
This retrospective is an expansive relooking at 37 years worth of work, said MacConnel. His exhibits fall into several groups of activity completed over these decades and comprise a juxtaposition of different engagements undertaken during his prolific career.
“So the exhibition itself looks a lot like a group show. So much of the work is really, really different.” MacConnel commented. “And that’s kind of a joke!”
The growth of MacConnel’s work developed from his subjects, he said, and it was also in reaction to the changes in the art world over time. The Pattern and Decoration Movement, prevalent in the mid 1970s, stirred his early work.
“A lot of my work was inspired by Near Eastern decorative textiles, non-Western interest,” MacConnel explained. It was a shift in emphasis that pulled in voices from other cultures. “Through the artist, there could now be a virtual conversation with someone from India or Africa or Mexico … that definitely affected me.”
MacConnel traveled extensively for further inspiration.
“I would enter these cultures and take photographs, and as a tourist, I would come away with lots of postcards,” he laughed. Several pieces in the show are photographs or paintings that were motivated by these travels and postcards.
By contrast, his later work finds him engaging in abstraction. “Again this comes out of travel and other cultures and the art movement at that time,” he said. “However, my pieces are not straight-edge abstraction that one might find in abstract expressionism, they are just a little bit off.” Lines are hand-drawn and the small imperfections are reflective of other cultural sources of expression, said MacConnel.
For years MacConnel collected items off the beach, mostly plastic.
“At first I started collecting them because I liked the shapes, and I started making them into things,” he said. Then, the raw items became part of a larger collection of beach detritus that will be displayed in one of the rooms as an installation, titled: “Selections from the Beach Collection.”
In 1994, MacConnel did a show, “The Age of Plastics,” that spotlit his work from this period. It was inspired by a turn-of-the-century show titled, “Picasso and the Age of Iron,” which was inspired by the detritus of the Industrial Age. In a tongue-in-cheek approach, MacConnel made small clown figures from his scavenged beach plastic, which are also included in his upcoming exhibition.