Amanda Kirkhuff creates portraits of wild women without boxing them in


REVIEW Amanda Kirkhuff is drawn to wild women. In a 2007 show at [2nd Floor Projects], she used black and green ink to render some female icons whose strengths are laced with ambivalence. For example, in a portrait of Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the pissy, vindictive self-help guru is rendered-times-five in a manner that emphasizes the manic energy in her eyes. (Even Schlessinger's hair, "painstakingly detailed" by Kirhuff, Ava Jancar noted in a Guardian review, seems slightly feral.) Likewise, in close-up looks at Mo'Nique from the same exhibition, the comedian and actress seems ready to burst out of her skin with ferocity and hunger — a craving for hilarity? No doubt about it: large and in charge in a manner akin to but also very different from Mo'Nique, Kirkhuff's work has a tremendous, at times radical, sense of humor.

Two year later at the same space, Kirkhuff has turned her attention to another famous woman with a highly-charged image: Lorena Bobbitt. In "here comes every body," a group exhibition at Margaret Tedesco's space, Kirkhuff looks at the woman known for cutting off her drunken louse of a husband's penis after a rape. Her visions are funny in a shiver-inducing, exciting way. They're also revelatory in terms of psychological twists, and in one case psychological depth.

Kirkhuff's oil on canvas portrait Lorena Bobbitt pulls the viewer past its gaudy and ostentatious gold frame into an eye-to-eye encounter. To try to describe the wildness — the mix of woundedness, defiance, and spark of ideas and action — in her eyes is a doomed venture. (A self-portrait by Kirkhuff in a recent show at Ratio 3 S-M porn-themed "Safe Word" had a similar boldness.) Her hair is lush and dark, and the paintings' colors are rich, an on-the-brink mix between old master classicism and lurid pulp. The overall piece is a great work, one of the best paintings to emerge from the Bay Area in years, and even more exciting when thought of amongst a new wave of California paintings by young artists such as Neil Ledoux and Conrad Ruiz.

One kicker of Kirkhuff's latest [2nd Floor Projects] appearance comes in the form of another Bobbitt piece. Placed kiddie corner from the oil painting, a large diptych drawing depicts Bobbitt cradling something bloody in some cloths. Here, she seems to have regressed into a childish state, and her actions take on a quality of both obedient housework and rebellious secretiveness. There's an electricity, a thrilling charge to the dynamic between the two works, and how they are arranged in relation to one another. Slightly less compelling, but arresting nonetheless, is Judy with the Head of Holofernes, a cranium-severer's nod to classicism that's a stark cousin of Bay Area creatorJamie Vasta's glitter explorations of the same subject, and also bears a truly funny resemblance to the recent "Unborn" series by another local artist, Desiree Holman.

Kirkhuff is that rare young artist who combines technical facility with actual content that isn't just art school wankery. More impressively, her still small (in terms of number) body of work to date has a definite arc. She is tapping into pop cultural femininity in a manner that has grown past the rigid binaries or blindness regarding self-critique that some might associate with pop culture feminism. She's after something more truthful and primal, and her talent allows her to reach it and capture it and yet leave it enigmatic. There's some untamed ambivalence at play in her imagery, except she and the women she sees aren't playing, at all. The fact that a self-portrait is at the center of the second of the three main shows she's taken part in hints that she's only just begun, so to speak.

One last thing: I like it that Kirkhuff thanks "all the queers" in her notes for the show. Gotta keep the faith amid crossover and cultural vampirism. She makes it easy to do.

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