Painter Robert Bingaman, a Wichita native who earned a BFA at University of Kansas and an MFA at Washington University in St. Louis, recently completed a three-year residency at Studios Inc, which offers studio space and exhibitions for mid-career artists.
During his residency, Bingaman, who lives in Kansas City with his wife, Molly, produced a series of large-scale paintings inspired by illuminated swimming pools at night. The new series expands on earlier pool paintings that were shown last year at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art; they are much larger and explore shifts in perspective.
Bingaman’s paintings are on display at the studio through Dec. 22. This conversation, edited for length and clarity, took place at the gallery.
Q: Your exhibition is called “Until It’s All You See.” Why?
A: That came from a conversation with my wife. She told me the way she connects with the pool paintings is to get as close to them as possible, moving closer and closer until it’s all you see.
At the time I had done smaller pool paintings and that inspired me to make them larger and have the color expand to your periphery.
Q: Was there a specific pool that sparked the idea for the pool series?
A: Yes. It dates clear back to graduate school. I was getting my (behind) kicked by my professors. After that first semester I was put on academic probation, which — it’s quite the thing to be put on academic probation for the quality of your paintings.
Q: Cuts a little deeper than flunking algebra, I imagine.
A: Right. But I took it as a challenge. I was in California, in Santa Barbara, with Molly, who was my girlfriend at the time. We had snuck into a pool …
Q: Snuck into a pool? In a residential neighborhood?
A: Yeah. It was right by the coast. It wasn’t so dastardly as hopping a fence, but we didn’t belong to the pool.
It was night, it was heated. It was illuminated. It was a beautiful evening. It was winter in St. Louis but I was in California.
I just had this moment of realization, and it was really interesting, that this is something that I deeply desire. I knew I would mark it in my memory as a mental landscape to return to when I’m not as content.
Q: So you didn’t have a backyard swimming pool in Wichita?
A: No. It’s definitely not about having one. It’s about not having one.
I often paint landscapes of desire. I have painted palm trees before. A palm tree is not exotic. In Ecuador or Haiti, a palm tree is a tree. It is exotic to us because we live in Kansas City.
Q: Why do your paintings depict pools illuminated at night? Is a pool different at night?
A: I think it’s obvious. It’s a void within a void. And you can decide whether it’s about emptiness or fullness.
“Until It’s All You See” by Robert Bingaman runs through Dec. 22 at Studios Inc., 1708 Campbell St. Hours are 10 a.m.-noon and 1-4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and noon-4 p.m. Saturday. Go to thestudiosinc.org for more information.