On Exhibit: Brian Dinkins gets small | Calendar | Chicago Reader

On Exhibit: Brian Dinkins gets small 

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Artist Brian Dinkins finds his inspiration in the mundane landscape of Kansas. "Every day you notice the same things over and over again, just feeling the repetition of the telephone poles or the chain-link fences." He ascribes "a vastness" to the area around Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City where his family lived. "When we first got there it was very much on the fringe," he says. "Behind our house was farmland all the way to Lawrence." Dinkins spent a lot of time with friends at construction sites, which he describes as "big play-grounds." He had to travel to find open land. "The built-up areas were structured; it was more exciting to get outside of those, finding new areas to bicycle in."

Dinkins says he has a "love-hate relationship with technology," an ambivalence that's apparent in his six quirky pieces now on display at Gary Marks Gallery. In an untitled work, a wide rolling conveyor belt supports a moving suburban landscape of cars, people, houses, a Pizza Hut, and a Shell station. Every bit of space seems neatly planned and carefully manicured. Mounted low and thus viewed from above, its flatness recalls for Dinkins the perplexing moment from his childhood when he learned the earth was round but could find no verification through his own observations. Small vignettes dot the model-train landscape.

A traffic jam is caused by a "giant," a small figure twice the size of the others. We also see "a car peeling out of the driveway, leaving skid marks, and a woman at the front door. There's a man sitting in a chair in the backyard; some sort of odd triangle is taking place," says Dinkins. "At the gas station there's two women sitting on the hood of a car, possibly flirting with the two attendants talking to them."

In a pair of other works, conveyor belts form two-lane roads on which rusty toy Winnebagos sit stationary as the pavement flies by underneath. In Winnebago Piece, Dinkins has painted red nipples and black panties on a blond miniature. We see a man driving, a woman at a counter inside, and in the back the blond--the daughter, one guesses--displaying her breasts before the window. Such occasionally kinky minidramas give the plastic figures a kind of personal freedom the landscapes deny. A construction called Catherine the Great places identical houses on a roller under a winged horse; tiny variations in the windows and doors of each house emphasize their sameness. The cartoon colors add a bit of absurdity. Dinkins means the houses to evoke "the idea of the cookie-cutter landscape. I wanted them offset"--each row of houses is staggered relative to the next, like theater seats--"so that when you looked at it head-on it would appear full, like it continued forever." The winged horse recalls the Pegasus myth. "What's interesting about Pegasus is that even though he stood for ideals of freedom he was also very much the pawn of the gods, a tool to conquer enemies."

As an undergrad at the Kansas City Art Institute, Dinkins's experience working in his father's bicycle shop "carried over into what I wanted to do with my art," which was to explore the relationship between art and technology.

"I am an admirerer of beautiful machines." Dinkins was particularly interested in technology's "Sisyphean" quality. "Traffic in London is slower now than it was a hundred years ago," he notes. Inspired by the designs of Leonardo da Vinci and Vladimir Tatlin, he started making "dysfunctional" flying machines. "One was a piece of wood the viewer lay on that was elevated off the ground. It had two large steel wings with springs attached that you moved with your arms. There was a motorized painted canvas landscape that you looked at as you lay there; that was my first use of the conveyor belt. It seemed pretty succinct--the dysfunctional flying machine and the Sisyphean landscape."

Since moving to Chicago in 1995 to attend the School of the Art Institute, Dinkins has been inspired by the industrial cityscape. "The drawbridges are amazing. There's a broken one right outside my window on Cermak." His divided attitude toward technology comes through in these most recent works. One untitled piece suspends two airplanes on strings; a fan facing them causes their propellers to rotate. While airplanes suggest freedom of movement, Dinkins's arrangement of them suggests "the idea of going somewhere without progress. We're alive, and we have to do something, but a lot of times what we choose to do seems rather ridiculous."

Brian Dinkins's sculptures are on viewâ along with the work of four other recent SAIC graduatesâ in the "Wishsong" exhibit at Gary Marks Gallery, 1528 N. Milwaukee, through August 24. Hours are 1 to 6 Wednesday through Sunday; call 773-342-7990 for more. --Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): untitled, 1997; "Catherine the Great," 1996; Brian Dinkins photos by Nathan Mandell.

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