Carlos Quinto Kemm is wholly sui generis in the sphere of contemporary art in New Mexico-no other artist springs to mind who approaches this hermetic artist's hugely idiosyncratic, surreal vision. Over the last two decades or more, a number of Santa Fe dealers who really knew their stuff, who had a true "eye" for striking originality-among them Elaine Horwitch, Arlene LewAllen, and Larry Munson-have championed this artist's gorgeous collages. Kemm's imagery always demands the closest attention, indeed, at times a magnifying glass might come in handy, since his compositions teem with antic life, like a drop of water under a microscope.
In his recent works, always exquisitely crafted, such as the collaged and painted Florinda's Flowers, Kemm evokes several occult currents in the history of art-making. A first impression, at a distance, might lead one to think we are looking at a highly stylized and ornate Persian miniature, loaded with fantastical figures and strange incidents. Another tradition Kemm invokes, equally as recherché, is that of Renaissance pietra dure (cut and inlaid semi-precious stone mosaics). Like those florid works, Kemm's surfaces have a hard, gem-like flash and dazzle.
The viewer has to marvel at the intricate cutting and fragile assembling of these works- surely madly time-consuming affairs, where layer upon layer of latticed imagery is superimposed, to a near hallucinogenic degree. In Florinda's Flowers, the shattered face of an apprehensive young girl (in fact, a reproduction from a work by the French Baroque artist Georges de la Tour) is folded into a bouquet in a handsome antique vase. Such creations have the effect of dreams within dreams, worlds within worlds, which adhere to their own, strange logic.
Carlos Kemm is an oneiric master, in the tradition of Max Ernst, Dali, and Magritte. This exhibition brought to mind strange lines from Coleridge's Kubla Khan; the observer might be well advised to "Weave a circle round him thrice, And close your eyes with holy dread, For he on honey-dew hath fed, and drunk the milk of Paradise." It certainly looks like something mind-altering has been ingested, and it makes for some pretty powerful fantasies. Kemm suggests he is in search of duende, a difficult to define phrase in the world of Spanish arts, which connotes originality and emotion. Both of these prized qualities are rampant in his newest works.