Kim Riley is an explorer—physically and visually. A self-described travel addict, Riley is constantly in motion. And in the spirit of exploration, she is always on the lookout for new discoveries. From the Burning Man Festival to Ibiza, Spain; New York City, Paris and Amsterdam, Riley is never without a camera and a desire to unearth new and exciting images from her surroundings. And, like all great explorers, the treasures that she returns with are rare and unusual—visual gems extracted from the chaos and clutter of her destinations.
Far from a typical “travel show” of obligatory tourist snapshots, Kim Riley’s current exhibit at Phillips Gallery is clearly the product of a dedicated artist and a unique perspective. As she explores each city, Riley lives in the moment, allowing each image that presents itself to dictate how it should be captured—which camera she uses, what camera angle, still or in motion, color or black and white. Riley’s openness to the moment, attention to surroundings and brilliant technical abilities resulted in an exhibit of great beauty and fascinating diversity. Displayed side-by-side are perfectly composed black-and-white images of Parisian monuments, abstract color images of urban environments, tilted perspectives, blurred movement and crisp, clear straight-ahead photographs.
While many of her images come from the most famous cities in the world, recognizable landmarks are rare. When they do appear, however, through Riley’s lens they become obscured, abstracted and personalized. In “Notre Dame, Paris,” the classic icon is captured with a sharply tilted camera angle and seen as if from a speeding car. The blur of structure and trees lends the cathedral a sense of mystery and darkness. Riley’s unique perspective throws the solid stone of Notre Dame’s architecture into motion, allowing it to become something contemporary and exciting in a new way. In “Mannequins, New York,” 5th Avenue and Rockefeller Center are revealed only through reflections in boutique windows occupied by haute couture-wearing mannequins. We are drawn into the work by its surreal nature and thoughtful composition, and can only locate the artist within her travels after carefully unraveling the layers of reality, artifice and reflection.
More often than not, Riley avoids recognizable landmarks, preferring to explore new visual territories. The resulting images are free of the ego-laden idea of “look where I have been,” instead revealing an essence of each place in a unique moment in time. This essence of place is a consistent thread throughout Riley’s work. An abstract pattern of shadows cast by club goers in Salt Lake City; a shimmering body underwater in Ibiza, Spain; the blur of human movement in the Metro stops of Paris—each offers a glimpse of an experience rather than a landmark or monument. “I see it as freezing a moment in time and capturing it for all to see,” says Riley.
In “Secondhand Despair, Paris” Riley’s talent, instinct and her spirit of exploration are clearly seen. Far from the glittering lights of the Champs Elysčes and the Eiffel Tower, Riley unearths a visual gem of haunting beauty. Discarded in the chaos of a Parisian secondhand store, a female mannequin torso lays against the back of an old wooden chair. Stripped bare, missing both arms and legs, the mannequin seems to swoon back in a gesture of extreme sadness, loneliness and abandonment.
It is images such as this that the tourist misses and the explorer brings to light. Filled with a deep restlessness—a wanderlust—Riley is impatient for her next journey. Until that time, we have the great fortune to marvel at her recent discoveries, and patiently wait for the treasures she brings home next.
KIM RILEY Phillips Gallery, 444 E. 200 South. Through April 8. 364-8284