David Kinker Paints His Nature

(L: David Kinker R: Dead Line Falls, Acrylic, 22”x28”)

Nature has been discussed, defined, deconstructed and reconstructed in a great many ways over the centuries. She has been examined through various lenses of philosophical thought, from Empiricism and Romanticism to Transcendentalism and Existentialism, just to name a few. Nature can be the essence of something, as in one’s “true nature,” or it can be anything that occurs in the natural world, the study of which falls under the purview of the natural sciences. In its extreme, nature can refer to a wild place, one beyond the reaches of society and void of culture, a rare entity in today’s world of pervasive human presence. Nature is also readily discussed in opposition to “nurture” or the “artificial,” where sometimes contentious lines of distinction are drawn to clarify one concept from the other. In today’s world of planetary distress where global warming remains a heated debate rife with economic and political vested interests, nature becomes the object of a push and pull match where some seek to (continue to) exploit her while others seek to save her and, in doing so, save themselves.

When considering the paintings of Bend artist David Kinker, one comes face-to-face with nature in at least two of the iterations briefly reviewed above: 1. Nature as the essence of something, and 2. Nature as a wild place. David’s stunning landscape paintings radiate with glorious color and light and prominently feature an object of his deep admiration and affection: rivers. To more fully understand the content of the artist’s paintings, a content that is ostensibly nature-centric, we must first acquaint ourselves with the man himself to gain some insight into his essence.

David Kinker grew up in Wyoming with the Grand Tetons at his doorstep. His dad was a river guide, and David began overnight trips into this magnificent wilderness at the tender age of three. The Kinker family lived off the land and seldom set foot in a grocery store except to procure some basic provisions. “I’ve been really blessed by having a rural life,” David stated in a recent interview, “and those rural places I’ve lived have been epic!” He attended high schools in Arizona and vocational technical school in Colorado studying illustration and pre-press production, and, post graduation, architectural rendering, model making and production art. After serving our nation for just over four years as a Navy air crew person based out of Texas, David completed his bachelors degree in Visual Communication, made Bend his home and asserted his commitment to art. 

With much artistic training under his belt, perhaps most insightful with respect to David’s paintings is his nearly thirty years of experience as an interpretive guide on river rafting tours. He has facilitated such tours many times in Idaho, four times in the Grand Canyon, once in Ecuador managing “seven rivers in seven days,” and once in northern Peru for two weeks on the Rio Marion. David has also navigated many of the regional waterways here in Oregon. These “peak experiences,” as David refers to them, have shaped the artist’s vision and provided him with the “magic” that he attempts to translate into his paintings. “There’s nothing more incredible than being in relationship with the powerful nature of water,” David offers. “Rivers are really the ribbons of life through our landscape, and the geology of canyons represents an open history book as we read layers of sediment and fossils.”

Kinker’s notion of being “in relationship with” something, like water, is fundamental to his appreciation and passion for nature as well as painting. To successfully navigate a river or complete a painting, one must be fully aware of the relationships in play in order to draw those various elements together into a unified whole. David explains, “When I’m taking people down the river and sharing insights about its geology and history, what I’m really doing is facilitating an awareness they may not have so they, too, can sense these important relationships that constitute our collective experience, both past and present.” As an art teacher, David finds the same process at work: “As aspiring artists learn about painting, they get taught all these strategies, many of which are somewhat confusing. I try to make them understandable. Color, for example, is something that I love to teach because the more you study color, the more you realize it’s all about the interaction of color, that is, the relationship among colors and not the individual color itself.” 

On some of his fantastic river voyages, David not only shares the tale of the river with his guests but also manages to find time to draw and paint. During a twenty day trip on the Grand Canyon, for example, the artist completed fifteen drawings and fifteen small paintings, the results of which, along with photos, he used as reference material for larger, studio-based paintings, a common artistic practice. Of that monumental experience, David shared, “I was so inspired by the light and shapes of the Canyon that I just kept going, both as an interpretive guide and as an artist!” Such excitement continues to propel David forward in both water and art. 

Also inspired by his river experiences is Kinker’s visual fascination with two-dimensionality. “In nature,” he states, “there are only a couple things that are 2-D: reflections and shadows, both of which are always moving and changing in mysterious ways, especially on the water and in the canyons.” In contrast to the limited two-dimensionality in nature, painting is almost entirely a two-dimensional activity (impasto paint application being a notable exception). As late 19th Century, French decorative painter Maurice Denis famously asserted, “Remember that a painting — before being a battle horse, a nude woman, or an anecdote of some sort — is essentially a flat surface covered with colours, put together in a certain order” (musee-orsay.fr). Here Denis acknowledges not only the inherent flatness of painting, particularly with respect to the substrate itself, but also the abstract process of assembling bits of color to produce a representational yet “flat” image. Kinker’s work thus involves reconciling the vastness of a three dimensional nature and its limited two dimensional aspects (reflection and shadow) with the two dimensional picture plane in an effort to create the illusion of space that coincides with his visual experience. 

“Water is magic,” the artist says. “If you can catch a piece of that magic, that’s beyond rendering an element. It’s capturing an illusion and making it real, both for the creator of the image and the viewer responding to it.” Indeed, it is with great skill that David corrals the essence of nature and himself and transcribes it into stunning images of magical quality.

David Kinker’s paintings can be viewed locally at Tumalo Art Co. in Bend’s Old Mill District or online at kinker.com


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