Editor's note: The following essay, without illustrations, was reprinted in Resource Library on February 5, 2007 with the permission of the Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. If you have questions or comments regarding the text please contact Intuit directly through either this phone number or web address:
Ken Grimes: Elusive Messages
January 19 - April 27, 2007
Alien visitations, crop circles, flying saucers, and space travel are all themes Grimes seeks to understand through collecting, examining, and evaluating their meaning in his paintings. Circles, pyramids, lines, and dots in his paintings compel the viewer to rethink our place in the world and the relation we have with the rest of the universe. This is the first solo exhibition of Ken Grimes's work in Chicago and will be curated by Intuit's Exhibitions Chair Jan Petry.
The Truth in Black and White
By Charles Russell
If Ken Grimes is right, his art will change the course of human history. If Ken Grimes is right, collective human consciousness will be transformed.
The paintings of Ken Grimes present the themes and symbols of extraterrestrial encounters. They suggest a long history of prior contact and seek to prove a continuing alien influence in our world. He paints signs and symbols made familiar throughout popular culture, e.g., UFOs, crop circles, extraterrestrial figures. His art and writings document his extensive study of the margins of scientific research, including the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project. They ponder the possible meanings of apparently changed testimony, conflicting interpretations, and dozens of typographic errors in printed accounts of a presumed radio transmission in 1960 from the vicinity of the star Epsilon Eridani. In the process, the art of Ken Grimes taps into a wide-spread collective fascination with the possibility of alien contact, and it testifies to an impassioned personal quest to uncover an awesome truth.
Born in 1947 and living most of his life in Connecticut, Ken Grimes briefly attended college and received some art training, has held a variety of relatively menial jobs, and for the past three decades has been a member and now resident at Fellowship Place in New Haven, a community mental health program that encourages intuitive artistic creativity. Ken Grimes displayed an early interest in the occult and paranormal, but his life quest took focus when he became fascinated by a remarkable series of coincidences linking his life to people, events, and phenomena across the globe. In 1971, after having attempted telepathically to influence a state lottery in his favor by walking around a crowd gathered in Cheshire, Connecticut for a drawing, he heard a week later of a Ken Grimes of Cheshire, England winning the equivalent of over a million dollar prize in a soccer pool. Subsequently, he began to notice and pursue further unusual links between his life and that of others. He has explored the mystery of the cause and meaning of what he feels must be more than mere coincidences. And he has become sensitive to similar odd concurrences that may be found in the lives of many, perhaps even on a global scale. Most significantly, he suspects that both the unusual conjunctions and our general tendency not to notice them or understand their true meanings may provide evidence of the presence of alien influence in our lives, obscuring our vision and controlling our minds. Such suspicions can, indeed, strike close to home. After reading an early version of this article, Grimes informed me that I, too, had committed an error in my description of the record of errors associated with Epsilon Eridani, having originally written "audio transmission" instead of "radio transmission." Grimes wrote, "I think it is important to get to the bottom of this and to try to figure out if the origin is human or alien?" Presumably, we will be able to do so, if only we knew how to discern the clues, read the patterns, recognize and interpret the evidenceand if only the means existed to reveal these truths.
Since the mid-80s, Ken Grimes has turned to his art to document, depict, and transmit his discoveries and speculations to the world. His paintings are dramatic. Working almost exclusively in black and white acrylic on canvas or wood or in black ink on white paper, Grimes presents bold, minimally drawn signs and symbols that illustrate mysterious occurrences, troubling questions, or speculative arguments about extraterrestrial phenomena in his private experience and in the public record. Often, starkly lettered texts will accompany the images, and, not infrequently, the paintings will be composed entirely of long texts describing unusual phenomena and strange narratives.
These are visually sophisticated works. Grimes is extremely attentive to composition and the demands of his medium. He initially sketches the design and words in pencil on the white ground and then fills in the surrounding spaces in black. All the important information thus stands out as white, highlighted against a dark ground. He explicitly seeks to effect a high contrast, having learned that if he painted white over black the words and images would never be as distinct and prominent as he desired. But aesthetics are not of primary importance to Ken Grimes. Rather, the message is. When asked about the response of those who think his art beautiful but who don't believe in alien presence, he states simply that they're getting only part of the meaning of the work.
Whether through symbols or words, Grimes's art is meant to communicate with his audience. He has created works explicitly to call our attention to troubling phenomena, illuminate unrecognized mysteries, and provoke collective inquiry into extraterrestrial activity. Some works depict or recount specific biographical experiences, offering the artist's life as singular testimony to supernatural occurrences. Here, his images focus frequently on images of great personal significance, especially the seemingly omnipresent satellite dishes, which he believes may provide channels for the interstellar transmission of thought. Other paintings catalogue popular culture iconography of alien contacts, detailing similarities and differences among widely reported images of aliens, space ships, crop circles. And still others command the viewer to join Grimes in his quest for an explanation. We Must Collect, Examine, and Evaluate as Much Evidence As Possible links the individual and the collective by presenting a range of significant icons below his text: wave signals signifying the transmission of messages across interstellar space; words designating one of the most important loci of mysterious coincidences and cosmic connection for Ken Grimesthe Jodrell Bank radio telescope in Cheshire, England; and three rows of iconic symbolsspaceships, crop circles, and images suggesting earlier alien contact in Egypt, Easter Island, Stonehenge or hypothetical biologic traces found in prehistoric fish and jellyfish.
The art of Ken Grimes recalls to us that in outsider art something beyond the pleasure of formal discourse is being expressed. Outsiders struggle with an intensely personal subject; their creations bear more than mere aesthetic significance. They reveal a drama of being in the world, of making meaning, of conceptualizing and framing a world that is recognizedin all its strangenessas our very own. The works may speak to us aesthetically; they may be fantastic and beautiful creations; but we understand intimately that it is the private passion generating the art that most fascinates us. Responding to outsider art is ultimately an existential experience, and in it we recognize and vicariously participate in the artist's discovery and projection of selfhood.
But some outsiders and visionaries, Ken Grimes among them, do not condone a distanced, if empathetic observation. Rather, their art simultaneously makes a personal statement and directly confront their viewers, demanding a response, as do the works of religious artists such as Howard Finster, Sister Gertrude Morgan, and William A. Blayney. Similarly, the decidedly secular messages and private narratives of a Royal Robertson or Jesse Howard are meant to provoke the audience while baring the angry soul of the artist.
Ken Grimes' paintings reveal a passion closer to religious inspiration than political dogma or personal rant. For what drives his work is a search for signs of a cosmic connection, a belief in the imminence of an unsettling truth, and a confidence that art can be an agent of revelation. Implicitly, his is an apocalyptic vision.
All cultures have sought signs from above and beyond; they have envisioned gods emerging from the sky, entering our realm, affecting, even controlling our behavior. In a seemingly secular age and scientific era, apocalyptic visions tend to be more technological and astronomical. Yet to date there's been no revealed truth, no enshrined dogma, even as a widespread public vocabulary and popular beliefs about alien presence have arisen.
Ken Grimes can be seen as an apostle of an alien apocalypse. He is an intuitive, visionary, passionate artist, yet he's also a dedicated and obsessive researcher exploring myriad pieces of popular and arcane data, convinced that he can identify significant patterns and interpret elusive meanings in the collective record and in his personal experience. He is fully aware of the magnitude and potential consequences of his project. In one work, he speculates that too sudden a revelation of alien presence would lead to mass suicides worldwide. Nonetheless, he believes he stands on the verge of a new human understanding of our place in the universe.
But he fully realizes that knowledge eludes himand us. In spite of his sense of truth's immanence, he testifies to a continuing awareness of mystery. Although he clearly believes in the possibility of proving the presence of aliens, he makes art out of the unresolved tensions of belief: his desire for proof, yet his awareness of his lack of success; his astonishment before what seems to be manifold evidence of a revelatory pattern, yet hisand our culture'sfailure to discern its true meaning. Ultimately, the great strengths of the work lie not only in his command of aesthetics, not only in the big questions that he asks, nor solely in the answers he so clearly wants to deliver, but in the naked honesty of his individual quest, his public self-questioning, and his passion for proselytizing.
The work of Ken Grimes is essentially a liminal art, an art that positions itself at the perilous boundary between two realms, seeking to transform mystery and complexity into clarityin black and white.
An Earlier version of this essay appeared in Raw Vision 50 (Spring 2005). Intuit thanks the author and John Maizels for permission to reproduce the text.
(above: Ken Grimes, (b. July 16, 1947, New York City), Untitled (Japanese deflected asteroid), 2006, Acrylic on panel, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery)
(above: Ken Grimes, (b. July 16, 1947, New York City), Untitled (Levels of control), 2002, Acrylic on panel, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery)
(above: Ken Grimes, (b. July 16, 1947, New York City), Untitled (If we don't go to mars), 2004, Acrylic on panel, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy Ricco/Maresca Gallery)
(above: Ken Grimes, (b. July 16, 1947, New York City), Untitled
(Alien entities), 2006, Acrylic on panel, 48 x 72 inches. Courtesy Ricco/Maresca
Resource Library wishes to extend appreciation to Farris Wahbeh, Program Director, Collections and Exhibitions, Intuit: the Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, IL 60622, for arranging permissions for reprinting the above text.
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