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Review: See “stop.moment,” Kenn Kotara’s print exhibit, in person

“barbe espagnole R66.10,” 2021, pastel & charcoal on paper, 42.25×28 inches

Jerry Cullum May 14, 2021

Kenn Kotara’s stop.moment, at Sandler Hudson Gallery through May 29, is the culmination of an incredible range of perceptions and conceptual and artistic explorations. But it is best approached as an emotionally stunning experience, created from visual elements that have been overused in other contexts. Here, the grid and the dot are renewed as sources of contemplation.

There is a fine online catalog for the show. But even more so than in most exhibitions, the scale of the work and the relationship between close-up detail and overall composition don’t just matter, they define the experience.

Almost all the pieces here are titled barbe espagnole, a Cajun French name for the Louisiana epiphyte we call Spanish moss. The circles and beautifully formed meander of lines from which these works are formed don’t suggest Spanish moss even as a geometric proposition — although the meander could be regarded as the ultimate abstraction of the underlying structure of a clump of Spanish moss. Kotara lives and works in Asheville, North Carolina, but his roots are in southern Louisiana.

The stencils that contain these forms are deployed in an unusual method (unusual to non-printmakers) in which finely ground-up charcoal and pastel powder are sprinkled onto dry paper and manipulated by hand, cloth and brushes, or sprinkled onto damp paper and adhered with a spray mist that further saturates and stains the paper. The effect of this pochoir method is ethereally delicate.

Reproduced in a greatly enlarged size on canvas with acrylic paint and pencil, the same imagery is created through a completely different technique. When a similar but less atmospheric effect is rendered with nothing more than pencil on paper, Kotara’s ability to pull off a dazzling variety of effects with a limited repertory of abstracted forms becomes stunningly evident.