Night changes everything, because darkness carries the emotional weight of fear, intimacy and secrets.
Kansas City artist Robert Bingaman, a co-founder of the outdoor painting group Plein Air Coterie, explores those feelings in his first solo museum exhibition. “Night Pools,” at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, features four of his nocturnal pool paintings, one of which is owned by the Nerman.
While it initially seems disappointing that there are only four paintings in this show, the longer you sit with them, the more perfect the installation becomes. These mysterious and luminous paintings are tangled in the various threads of desire, abstraction, spatial exercises and nocturnal imaginings.
In the blackness that embraces these pools, they are nowhere and yet somewhere. While Bingaman suggests in his artist statement that they might be “guiding old and coddled longings,” we may wonder if these quiet cyphers could even hold our longings or if they would simply slip beneath the water’s alien depths.
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The velvety night that surrounds the pools is comforting and slightly sinister, abstract and yet fully present, thick and impenetrable. The glowing pools’ stillness is absolute, as is the opaque night.
While Bingaman has gone on record about a childhood desire to own a pool, these pools suggest so much more than a nostalgic glance behind. Bingaman’s paintings also tap into the zeitgeist of 19th-century Romanticism.
Despite their quiet calm, the paintings speak to the wide emotions of Romantic painting, in which awe, spirituality and the forces of nature and imagination become defining aesthetic experiences.
Formally, the paintings have an Ellsworth Kelly minimalist look, but avoid Kelly’s cool, clear abstraction. They emerge from the background as wedges, curved shapes and other geometrics. The subtle brushwork and adept paint application lends a concentrated depth that color field and minimalism painting can lack.
The pools themselves, with their varied, subtle color shifts done in layers of paint and oil, seem infinitely deep. These pools don’t just float on the surface of the canvas: Uncannily, they seem to open into another space beyond and behind the painting. Seemingly lit from within and from below, the floating pools shimmer in the shadowy night, portals to the unknown.
“Robert Bingaman: Night Pools” continues at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art at Johnson County Community College, 12345 College Blvd., Overland Park, through Aug. 31. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, 913-469-3000 or www.nermanmuseum.org.