Leanne Grimes: The Journey to Radiant Earth

Two newcomers to the Seattle scene are worth checking out this month: Blindfold Gallery, now mounting its fourth exhibit since opening in April, and Leanne Grimes, who graduated last year from the University of Washington’s MFA painting program.

Grimes’ paintings often depict landscapes built out of heaps of rich, chunky paint and loud color. But for the paintings in The Journey to Radiant Earth, a show that lightheartedly glosses over the fetishization and elusiveness of memory, she punched the color up even more with day-glo oranges, yellows and pink. They’re the colors of plastic toys and melting popsicles. These paintings depict apocalyptic black night skies spattered with emerald stars, candy-raver mountains and surreal beaches. They range in size from petite to a huge, unstretched canvas pinned across an entire wall of the gallery. - Amanda Manitach, Seattle Contributor

Leanne Grimes | CherryTop, 2012, oil on mylar, 11 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Leanne Grimes | Sweet Potato and Kale Taco Night, 2012, oil on mylar, 11 x 14 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Grimes sources much of her material for paintings from family picture albums she brought with her when she moved from Philadelphia to Seattle to attend grad school. The albums are filled with faded 3x5 photos taken by her mother.

For this series of paintings, Grimes literally removed some of the photographs from the albums and embedded them on or to the side of the oil paintings. They serve as little footnotes, anchoring the paintings to a specific point in history, sometime in the late 80’s, when Grimes was small child. Many of the snapshots are of kittens. According to Grimes, when she was five years old she witnessed the simultaneous birth of two kitten litters on the same night. It must have seemed like a portentous, mystical event. The Journey to Radiant Earth references that night both tenderly and tongue-in cheek and pokes fun at New Age formulae found in books like Journey to Radiant Health: perhaps something magic happened that night (the paintings suggest with childlike wonder), the memory of which will unlock some sort of spiritual clarity.

Leann Grimes | Owlwood, 2012, oil on mylar, 30 x 42 inches.

Leanne Grimes | Owlwood (detail) 

Leanne Grimes | Mimosa Supernova, 2012, oil on mylar, 30 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Not all photos are of kittens, though, and in many instances a logical connection between painting and photo is elusive.

For instance, the dreaminess of a coral pink foreground in Owlwood where the only identifiable figure is an owl perched on a pink branch. The photo attached to this painting shows two morose children staring at the ground, which is covered in an explosion of powdery dry goods that look like spilled cake mix; behind them a toppled cardboard box and plastic liner bag.

Leanne Grimes | Manhattan Beach, 2012, oil on mylar, 30 x 42 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

In Manhattan Beach, the palm leaves are like exploded fireworks trembling on the tops of tenuous stems. The tree colors iterate the leapfrog-and-rainbow pattern on the blanket in the snapshot (the photo depicts an infant playing with kittens on the floor). Grimes grew up in Philadelphia, and we wonder if her vision of Manhattan Beach is based on real memory or imagination and whether the juxtaposition of photographs to landscape is nostalgic or simply absurd.

Grimes’ use of print photographs serves to heighten nostalgia for physical reproductions in an era of digital photo albums on Facebook (also filled with internet cats), where snapshots are literally insubstantial stuff, composed of ether. The object-ness of the printed photograph is so emphatic it calls attention to the object-ness of Grimes’ paintings as well, and to her technique which relishes and fetishizes the materiality of the medium. Grimes’ making relics of materials — cats, paint, photographs — to catalyze feel-good energy and mental health raises the question: can a kitten be a power crystal? Can a painting of a memory? The works winkingly hint at the answer, which ultimately doesn’t matter too much. Grimes’ sweetly brash color, the interjection of absurdity and (of course) cute kittens keep the work from getting too bogged down in the hypothetical or holistic.

The Journey to Radiant Earth is on view at Blindfold Gallery through August 5, 2012.


Leanne Grimes is a Philadelphia native who moved to Seattle three years ago to pursue her MFA at UW. She earns a living slinging food and drinks at a restaurant in Belltown called the Innkeeper. This is where she can be found when she is not in her studio or on an adventure. 

Amanda Manitach is a writer and artist based in Seattle.


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