For those living in Jackson it’s pretty clear the landscape is inspiring.
The craggy peaks, lakes, verdant fields and abundant wildlife are the motivation for everything from award-winning works of art to feats of strength in the mountains. It’s a place that has drawn creatives throughout history.
In late summer 2017, Australian artist Kevin Chin took a one-month residency at the Teton Artlab, hoping to glean some of the inspiration we experience daily. More than a year and a half later, Chin has finished a series, titled “Structural Equality,” that incorporates work from his time at the Artlab.
“The natural landscape of the area represents the backdrop for TV and film that is viewed globally,” Chin wrote in an email to the News&Guide. “Even though I live on the other side of the world, when I dream of an idyllic place it’s this sort of imagery that comes to mind.”
Chin, an award-winning artist in his country, has a clear process: Take lots of photos, then synthesize them into large-scale paintings that incorporate a number of elements with a collage-like effect. In his month in the Tetons he photographed everything from Mammoth Hot Springs to Mount Moran to the boardwalks in Yellowstone National Park and everything in between. Though he didn’t create a piece of work while he was here, he blended the pictures he took home with those he took during residencies in Indonesia and Japan.
Melding imagery from Western and Asian landscapes epitomizes Chin’s thematic aims. Born in Malaysia and raised in Australia, the artist has a distinct sense of identity, one that eschews walls and clear definitions.
“Piecing these disparate regions together allows me to jam and text mixed cultural references towards themes of postnationalism,” he wrote.
“Another Rung,” one of the eight pieces in “Structural Equality,” shows a pair of crews building walls on either side of the frame. Chin fills the distance between them with snippets of landscape: desert hills, Yellowstone-style pools and an inverted skyline of trees create separation between the groups.
Behind one of the walls is a market scene, too distant to tell exactly what is happening. The faces of the workers are turned away from the viewer, and those of the marketgoers in the top right of the image are too small to make out. The effect allows the viewer to impart identity on the subjects, with the colorful fabrics blowing on the market side implying an Asian scene. The harsher construction cones and fluorescent vests of the workers on the left denote an American crew.
“By intertwining landscapes from across continents, I’m interested in how place forms fluidly in the consciousness, and aim to create new territories beyond nationalistic borderlines,” Chin wrote.
In such large works that grapple with contentious themes like migration and identity, balance is key to making the paintings accessible to a wide audience. Rows of trees and the sky reflecting off bodies of water offset solitary figures and their poverty; steel girders, hidden among billowing waves of colorful tarps, are the counterweight to snowy, cloud-shrouded peaks.
Nowhere in “Structural Equality” is that interplay better shown than in “Tiers,” a scene of a waterfall cascading into a serene pool. One green, tree-laden side gives way to a building flanked by levels of scaffolding. Behind the main façade are escalating tops of skyscrapers that dominate the top of the image. The greenery of the natural scene draws the eye first and sets in motion the tiered effect of the painting’s layers.
Chin read a lot about structural inequality (in relation to people, not art) while he was working on the pieces.
“This inspired me to think more about how the structures in the natural landscape are affected by built structures, and how these in turn reflect societal structures,” he wrote.
Though you may not be able to see Chin’s works in person, as they are on display at the Martin Browne Contemporary gallery in Melbourne, you can check them out at KevinChin.com.au. Make sure to keep an eye out for themes from the Tetons in his work.
“I took over 10,000 photos while there and sourced enough material to last a lifetime,” he wrote. “So whatever happens you’ll see this imagery revealed in my paintings for many more series to come.” ￼