By Clark Fair, Redoubt Reporter
Prominently displayed at the entrance of the exhibit now on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center is a cautionary message from the artist, Joe Kashi, stating, “These photographs are intended to be simply fun and light-hearted. Any depth or meaning that you might perceive in these photos is your own. As Freud once remarked: ‘Sometimes a good cigar is just a good cigar.’”
I greatly appreciated pardon from the artist. All too frequently I leave exhibits feeling like it was some inside joke between the artist and the art, which the viewer was not meant to be part of. This frankly frustrates the heck out of me and I wonder why the artist even bothered leaving their studio. It was refreshing to walk in and know immediately that there was no inside joke, and that I was in control of deciphering any meaning the work might hold.
In his artist’s statement regarding the show, Kashi also proclaims his work to be “Shallow Art.” One should certainly not equate this term with unsophisticated or simpleminded work. His reference to his work being “shallow art” might be in regard to content — he didn’t create this body of work to challenge the deep meaning of life, love and the pursuit of happiness. In a very sophisticated and highly technical way, what Kashi has done in this body of work is capture random moments. Those moments when the intellectual part of your brain turns off and you find yourself locked in a meditative moment of just staring.
The first time I remember experiencing this sensation I was 6 years old and we were moving from the house I had lived in my entire life. I remember the house was empty except for a small TV sitting in a corner. I sat down next to the TV and became locked in one of those staring moments. To this day I can still remember the image of that moment, like a picture burned in my brain. Kashi has successfully captured moment after moment of these cerebral suspension experiences in his exhibit.
Taking in Kashi’s exhibit reminded me of the scene in the movie “American Beauty” where the plastic bag is spinning in the wind. In the movie all the characters’ lives are wildly spinning in and out of control, then you have, by contrast, a scene with nothing happening except a plastic bag dancing in the wind. To me, this exhibit can be described as that moment when everything shuts down and you just stare and watch as the wind makes a plastic bag dance around and around and nothing else in life seems to matter for that moment.
I greatly enjoyed the simplicity of the piece “Decorated Window, Veronica’s Café, Kenai,” in which Kashi has photographed a soaking wet window with fish decals arching above a big smear where somebody tried to wipe the moisture off the window. Its beauty is in capturing being locked in that meditative moment of just looking out the window. I greatly appreciate the composition of this piece as there is an active subject in the foreground of the picture plane, and a competing subject hidden farther back. This push/pull creates a lot of visual interest for what, at first glance, appears to be a very simple little piece.
Another piece that grabbed my attention was “Crocs,” a photograph of a stack of Croc shoes. Again, Kashi has captured a still-life moment and transcends it into a beautiful piece of art. There is a drop of dried coffee on one of the shoes, and once your eye notices the drop it becomes a strong focal point, impossible to take your eye away.
In many of his pieces, such as “Ice Cubes Refracted Yellow and Red Roasted Peppers,
Fat Olives, Homer,” Kashi uses an object, like ice, to abstract the subject and brilliantly transform objects, like peppers, into beautiful puddles of melting color.
Kashi’s exhibit of meditative and reflective photographs will be on display at the Kenai Fine Arts Center in Old Town across from the Oilers Bingo Hall, through July 24.
Natasha Ala is a contributing writer and local art champion who lives in Soldotna.