Portland Art Museum

Going Back to Planet Childhood

I had a moment of pure joy at the Portland Art Museum. Each time I visit, I enjoy some old favourites as well whatever new works they have on display. This weekend, I went to see two artists they were advertising: Francis Bacon and Gerhardt Richter, both of whom I like very much. The Bacon painting was a very good one, but sadly only one painting. The Richter works were very much in the grey tones, and not the huge squeegeed work that I love, so that too was a little disappointing. But when I went upstairs to the Modern Art area, I turned a corner into a darkened room and saw this:

Unbelievable!  The surprise and the sheer joy of seeing a colourful, brightly lit city in miniature made me squeal delightedly in the luckily deserted gallery. I walked slowly around the whole installation, while it was definitely a city, none of the buildings looked like anything realistic, the whole thing was more fantastical than representational. The work was made of translucent resin, LED lights, and colour, three of my favourite things.The title is City 0000 by American artist, Mike Kelley. According to the explanation in the gallery it’s based on the comic book city of Kandor, “ the home of Superman (that) was supposed to be have been miniaturized and stolen before the planet exploded.”

Kelley’s City 0000 definitely creates a sense of childish wonder and delight, everyone who steps into the space became instantly happy. The card in the gallery further explains Kelley’s influences as “populist childhood references to his fascination with Superman and Kelley’s oft-stated longing for a more perfect, rational life.”

As a mother, I noticed that my son, Sam, loved to draw when he was young, but his pictures were not representational as much as narrative. He would draw hundreds of tiny stickmen, armed or in motion, sometimes battling each other or sometimes journeying across a carefully mapped territory. His drawings were unlike anything I’d ever done myself, and when you looked at them he would carefully explain exactly what was happening in Sam-world. While at art school, I read about sculptor Claes Olenburg, and how as a child, he and his brother created a complete historical and geographical world of their own. I remember feeling that click of connection: Oh…they’re just like Sam. 

As artists, it’s a way to touch others, to pull from our common experiences of being young and full of imagination, that time in our times when our creativity is limitless and uninhibited.  And then like Mike Kelley, you can move people to joy with your art.