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What: The Collaborative Work of Jeremy Kibel and Rhys Lee
Where: Block Projects, 79 Stephenson Street, Richmond 3121 (not Flinders Lane anymore!)
When: Until September 30, 2010

I have never been to an exhibition that showed paintings by more than one artist on the same canvas. Now that I’ve seen The Collaborative Work of Jeremy Kibel and Rhys Lee I’m not entirely sure why not. Street artists do it all the time, right? Painting over the work of someone else that they are not that keen on and adding their own mark. I just wonder how that goes when you’re standing right next to the artist who’s doing it to your work!

The artists worked together on four huge canvases which took up most of the space at the new Block Projects gallery in Richmond. While we were there Georgina and I were lucky enough to meet one of them, Jeremy Kibel, who is also the gallery owner. We couldn’t help but enquire which parts of the work he did. Jeremy compared their collaboration to a band and replied, “Would you ask a musician which note was his?”

Looking at both of their independent work gave me a bit more of an idea. The angular mountains and Picasso-like heads were obviously Jeremy’s. These feature in his previous exhibitions. As do Rhys Lee’s minimal, gestural faces that sometimes look like they were scrawled on top with chalk.

I’d say the artists worked less like a band, and more like mash-up djs mixing a number of art styles into each piece. The works resembled a crazy mish-mash of Fauvism, German expressionism, cubism, neo-expressionism and a hint of Pop. Layering paint, like beats, on top of each other’s, and spontaneously (and possibly subconsciously) jumping from one style to the next.

The colours in the work were incredible. Each painting seemed to have its own unique colour palate, but at the same time pastels would butt up against blacks and maroons on the one canvas; no combination was off limits.

Jeremy handed Georgina and I exhibition catalogues and one of the first things we noticed was a photo on the back cover of the most amazing studio. We’re talking a warehouse so big the guys had a car parked inside and it wasn’t crowding their work space in the slightest! Seeing us both almost drooling, Jeremy told us about his first studio in a tin shed, which was absolutely freezing in winter, and so hot in summer that he worked wearing just footy shorts. In his words, “It was either hell or hell”.

I was surprised by how open he was, and willing to talk about personal experiences in the art world, both as an artist and gallery owner/dealer. He explained to us his intention to keep the identity of Block Projects separate from that of him as an artist and was quite cynical of art dealers whose names become bigger than that of the artists they represent. He told us about being kicked out of VCA before it was VCA, back when students had to bring their toilet paper, about being accepted to CalArts on folio, but not being able to afford to go, about working in New York as a studio assistant and the isolation one experiences there, “if you want a friend in New York, buy a dog”. He compared himself as an art dealer to a junkie with his own plantation with the quote “Have you done any deals this week, Jeremy? Yes, six to myself.”  Jeremy’s love of both creating art and of art in general was really clear, as was the fact that he lived life his own way and maybe had to struggle a bit in the process; a quality I really admire.

I equally admired the work produced by the collaboration. As a painter it’s usually necessary to spend a large amount of time working alone. The Jeremy Kibel/Rhys Lee team has produced incredibly dynamic works, the kind that you would rarely see at a solo exhibition, and it looks like they’ve really enjoyed doing it together. Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat made it work. Jeremy Kibel and Rhys Lee definitely have too.

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