Visual Art

Two Exhibits at Kirk Hopper Offer a Glimpse Behind the Artistic Curtain

Every artist struggles to reach certain milestones, but viewers aren’t always offered a glimpse of the journey. Neither of the two upcoming solo exhibitions at Kirk Hopper Fine Art have a unified or cohesive look. With a sample of drawings and paintings from two different projects, one focuses on the creative process. The other allows viewers to see an artist transition from organizing chaos to using a simpler, more straightforward approach.

Robert Birmelin will be making his first trip to Dallas for the reception of his exhibition, Beloved Chaos. A New York artist who has been showing in galleries since 1960, Birmelin typically prefers to have a more unified set. But he agreed to mix it up for this show, providing samples of his work from the last five years. Along with a few paintings, several drawings make up the majority of his material here. Sketched at home, the works on paper are a big part of what he does. This is where the activity begins, where he starts adding color and prepares to paint in his studio. But they are works of art in their own right; Birmelin often has shows that are made up of these drawings.

Searching the streets of New York City for inspiration, he used to do a sketch in public when he found something that piqued his interest. But over time he was able to develop a visual memory, an invaluable discipline. He tends to work in a series, doing several drawings and paintings with an idea. Once he sees something that stimulates his imagination, he develops a theme and does many variations.

Birmelin’s work is gestural. He paints events, not things. The events he chooses are ongoing and transitory. From his memory or a quick sketch, he tries to capture the energy of a situation and the activity of a crowd without necessarily focusing on being reportorial. His aim is to capture the feeling of the experience. Two of his obsessions are represented in this show. The first are the crowds of the New York City subway, specifically at the lower level of Penn Station.

The second is an enormous inflated rubber rat hovering over a crowd with protest signs. The scene is often in front of a construction site, store or hotel. These are union workers protesting non-union labor. Near an entrance, the union members bring the rat, pump it up, pass out leaflets and wave signs to discourage people from going in. For Birmelin, this was a remarkable visual event he often witnessed in New York City’s Garment District.

The towering rat is a symbol of people trying to defend their own turf and protect the benefits they have earned. This series began with a simple sketch on the street near his studio. But then he started considering this theme beyond unions. “I started thinking of the revolutions and protests,” says Birmelin. “Initially in the Middle East, but then in many other places.” He eventually considered what was happening in his own city and gathered some inspiration by putting himself in crowds of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
“You realize that many of the revolutions have started so idealistically,” Birmelin says. “But there were enemies within it. So we do not get that nice democratic change.” Considering the natures of revolutions, protests and counterrevolution, he did about 50 drawings and paintings.

The exhibition from Dallas painter and sculptor Martin Delabano is aptly titled Change. It captures his work in a state of transition. Delabano is debuting brand new work he has been perfecting for a year. He has previously been known for frames packed with chaotic narrative collages textured with snippets of drawings, images, text, color and handwriting. Some of these older pieces will appear in the show and there are other oddball pieces mixing the old with the new, showing the artist in transition.

Delabano’s new colors schemes are still bold, but he has moved on to a radically different aesthetic. He is now doing encaustic paintings, using melted crayons and resin. The new look is drastically less crowded, but not minimalist. The forms may be abstract, but he still uses narrative titles. Delabano admits that the simplicity of his new work took some getting used to.

“It was a real struggle,” he says. “I felt like I sort of just lost my way.” But he was ultimately drawn to using such a direct approach. The new work may be a surprising departure, but Delabano uses some of the same forms — like a digestive tract — that he has been using for a decade. He is also drawing from a wide range of influences. With a father who served as curator of installation at the Dallas Museum of Art for 33 years, Delabano was more or less raised at the museum.

Beloved Chaos and Change run from September 5 to October 3, at Kirk Hopper Fine Art, 3008 Commerce St. For more info, visit