Kevin Regan in his studio. — Photos by Mimi Luse
Poaching from gothic iconography, the culture of psychedelic drug ingestion, kitschy pin-ups, and early Xeroxed zine culture, Kevin Regan makes collages, videos, drawings and installation pieces that project a black sense of humor. While his mostly stark palette and the reappearance of certain potent symbols (scorpions, skulls, etc,) suggest the artist has a personal obsession with death and the afterlife, his works also distance themselves from the subject with humor, preventing a direct reading as "gothic" works of art per se.
“If there’s a fulcrum point that I try to go after,” says Regan, “it’s that [the work of art] is simultaneously a joke and not a joke; but in a way, death is the ultimate joke.”
Walking the line between irony and a sincere fascination with the occult, Regan creates installations that play with optical illusions and facetiously invite the viewer to enter an otherworldly state. While some of his works are composites of banal imagery, like dolphins or eagles, we also see references to theory and art historical heavyweights. Taken together Regan erects altars to modern art and pop culture. The precision and order with which these parodic works are executed demonstrate his skills as a production artist, which is what Regan has done for a living. But while the artist casts a cynical eye on his sources, demolishing them and obscuring their origins, Regan’s art is also an homage — the artist’s way of synthesizing his interest in and fascination with the subcultures he appropriates from.
For his exhibition, "Mount Analogue" at the Artes gallery last fall, Regan arranged his collages and sculptures into complicated symmetrical formations. The title of the show is taken from Rene Dumal’s mystical allegory of the same name. In some of Regan’s works, art history is treated as a spiritual source, arranged on an altar, and then poked irreverently. Robert Smithson’s work and, funnily enough, his face, figure largely into Regan’s works.
In one piece, Regan has drawn a polygram over a black and white photo of Smithson, defacing the would-be savoir/shaman of modern art. In another, Regan places his own body into the Smithson oeuvre. A time-curled photograph of Regan’s face on a slab of mirror makes a direct jab at Smithson’s "Mirror Displacement" series. It’s called Mirror Displacement On Your Face. While he is making light of Smithson’s heavy role in modern art, Regan allows the influence to pervade his aesthetic: the restrained parameters of minimalism, the enantiomorphic techniques; even the works that poke fun at him are an elaboration on and application of the late artist’s ideals.
This dualism of sincerity and parody continues in The Conversion of St.Paul , a video in which Regan expands on his own fascination with psychedelic experimentation and the influence of John C. Lilly‘s book, Center of the Cylone, a personal account of expanded consciousness through the use of psychedelics. Taking a cue from thousands of other YouTube users who have videotaped their experiences with the legal psychedelic Salvia Divinorum, Regan decides to document his own trip. The artist nods out, closing his eyes like so many other users have before him. In one sense there is little else distancing him from the other amateurs exposing themselves online. But his decision to call his contribution art qualifies his work as a performance.
Regan explains, "There’s this social phenomenon and I ask, ‘why would people do that?’… ‘why would I want to do that?’ so I decided to test my own boundaries…. It’s a parody that I believe in." In an age of irony, Regan’s work is a means of examining how we negotiate between our buried desires to believe in otherworldly forces and the pervasive cynicism that our agnostic age inspires.