Molly McCracken Kumar at Aftermodern
By Nirmala Nataraj

Originally printed in Art Week, July/August 2008, Vol. 39

The work of San Francisco based Molly McCracken Kumar dispenses with the representational gambits one may be accustomed to expect from artists invested in recalibrating the perceptual states associated with natural processes. McCracken Kumar's work is perhaps so stunning because she evokes the inchoate, preverbal wonder of sensory states without intellectualizing them or miring them in sterile metaphors. Her recent exhibition of new works, Ethereal Realities, is replete with images of burgeoning fecundity and quiet dissolution. Birth, life and death find their apogees in the same primordial shapes and forms–from chains of molecules to blooming plants to exotic ephemera weaving mobile patterns throughout her canvases.

McCracken Kumar's delicate chimeras immediately summon parallels to the muted expressionistic surrealism of Paul Klee, and inhabit a similarly fragile, dreamlike terrain. Pieces such as Autumnal Uprising, with its splashes of ruddy color and seasonal glee, reveal a flurry of shapes swimming in an amniotic bath of abstract patterns that allude to the most primitive, pervasive biological processes. Because many of her pieces elicit the continuity and unwavering progression for the seasons, McCracken Kumar seems little interested in particularities. Object identity becomes subsumed in pieces that offer a subtle nod to natural processes on an almost subatomic level. The manner in which shapes and forms coalesce and swirl together reminds viewers of a primordial soup in which the indeterminacy of objects precludes the emergence of individual characteristics. Desire itself, which pulses throughout the interlaced forms, is no longer a property specific to any single feature, but rather, an evolutionary entity that is deeply immanent in each work.

Because McCracken Kumar's "seasonal" pieces point to the fluidity of objects and perception, as well as the problem of holding such chaotic components in equilibrium, her canvases becomes containers for multiple processes in time and space. Fastidiously layered paint represents nature in all is sensual saturation and multiplicity; to point out individual processes would be impossible, because these are works that intentionally defy linear logic. In fact, past, present and future are all suspended in the same quadrant, particularly in pieces such as Birth Mandala, in which dense, seed-like forms inhabit the center, only to eddy out in to a whirlpool of shapes that gradually diminish in their singularity as they draw farther from the center. Despite the biomorphic nature of McCracken Kumar's imagery–flowers, insects, fertile wombs and foliage–such pieces insinuate the cosmic, impersonal nature of our existence. Fecund as the images in Birth Mandala are, the very composition of the piece connotes cosmic processes, many which are imperceptible. Despite the fact that McCracken Kumar's lush shapes and forms seem to beg comparisons to the natural world, dense clusters of shapes and vacant plots of space also appear to represent hidden, subtle energies–those aspects of nature that lie dormant in both space and time. McCracken Kumar's Electric Marine is a piece that accordingly evokes the wonder and mystery of forces both seen and unseen. Exquisitely diaphanous layers of color render a wave-like, moiré effect–as if the viewer is apprehending the piece while submerged underwater. This is simply one of the instances in which McCracken Kumar's penetrating eye creates the possibility of permeability across many membranes of reality.

What is perhaps most arresting about her assembled pieces, propped up like luminous mediations on the Aftermodern walls, is that forms, diverse as they are, always circumnavigate back to the essential nature of form, and the interstices of movement and stillness that define any object. The languorous titles of McCracken Kumar's works (Quiet Ardor, Evocative Stillness, Steady Ripeness, etc.) indicate the paradoxical nature of form itself. Like traditional Buddhist art, these works arouse quiet contemplation. It takes excruciating patience and skill to simultaneously capture the stillness in motile phenomena, and the volatility and kinetic potential in stationary states; in the end, it is perhaps this juxtaposition of seeming opposites that makes McCracken Kumar's work so tantalizing and so viscerally immediate.