Vonn Cummings: Second Nature March 11 – April 8, 2023 Morton Fine Art 52 O St NW #302 Washington, DC 20001
Second Nature is a solo exhibition of new paintings on paper and canvas by artist Vonn Cummings Sumner. First rendering Krazy Kat, George Herriman’s influential comic strip character during the early period of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sumner returns to the wandering, curious avatar with Second Nature, escorting the titular figure through newly verdant, water-pooled landscapes, open spaces and art historical-coded landscapes, longing for escape and a reconnection with Nature. Genderless and endlessly depicted, Krazy Kat stands in for “everyman,” but rarely has their roaming path seemed to follow a strange inner voice that might be its own, but also Sumner’s—raising the question “who’s following who?” as both go about a grand tour of references, past and present.
Second Nature finds Krazy Kat (and Sumner) on a heavy, if much-needed retreat, anxiety hanging about and lightened by the exhibition’s antithetical moments of enigma, colour and joy. Sumner’s sixth solo exhibition with the gallery, Second Nature, will be on view from March 11 – April 8, 2023 at Morton’s Washington, D.C. space (52 O St NW#302).
Introduced to Krazy Kat by his longtime mentor and friend, the late artist Wayne Thiebaud, Sumner’s character has become a fertile prompt, both for working through existential atmospheres and more painterly notions of colour, composition, control, gesture and mark-making. Where Sumner’s first body of work with Krazy Kat placed the internationalist “everyman” in horizonless, all-white backgrounds ripe with psychological references, and a subsequent 2022 exhibition watched Krazy Kat pass by inflamed trash cans and looming aerial anvils—partly a response to the time’s deep atmosphere of instability and loss—2023’s Second Nature features Krazy Kat back out in the open world, or perhaps removed from it, tramping through vivid, almost day-glo rendered deserts, forests, fields—and much of Western art history.
Returning back to colour in full force, Second Nature revives Sumner’s ongoing balancing act between “cartoon” and “painting.” Colours surge with an agency of their own, sometimes running counter to the narrative elements of the works. The graphic boldness of Night Bathers’ (2023) rectangular blue and green landscape, touched by two black trees and deep orange moon, is contrasted by the painterly chevron brushstrokes depicting waves on Krazy Kat’s bathing pool. Destabilized by colour, the work could reasonably be decoded as a night for day setting, turning the work on its head—or placing it back in a cartoon and cinematic tradition.
Belonging to a series of “Bather Kat” works ( River Bather, Green Bathers), these works are new explorations of acrylic paint on paper and may be read for a preoccupation with scrubbing oneself clean, particularly in the aftermath of the past few years and in light of Krazy Kat’s previous adventures with Sumner.
But longer engagement with the works draws out Sumner’s expert, playful eye for form, color and history. Capturing the airy, open tactility of the beach—depicting clouds and a sandy bluff in similarly rough, scratchy applications of paint—Beach Stretch (after Cezanne) (2023) is also a sort of pun, alluding to Cezanne’s famed bathing series. Horse and Rider (2023), drawing from Edgar Degas’ series of horse sculptures, is all speed and movement, the surface paint seeming to blur in fast motion. Grass, tree and horse alike are pulled and smoothed out—except for Krazy Kat’s tail, forever jointed in a “z” shape.
Like that zig-zagging tail, Krazy Kat cuts a pensive path, inviting us to join the existential reverie found in these unfolding spaces of rich forms and loaded marks, where Sumner offers his painterly meditations.
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