To the Point

With painstaking process, David McKirdy uses the dot as the basis for his art.

click to enlarge POINT/COUNTERPOINT: A David McKirdy image made from dots. - Courtesy Dunedin Fine Arts Center
Courtesy Dunedin Fine Arts Center
POINT/COUNTERPOINT: A David McKirdy image made from dots.

No doubt there is something about being a visual artist that invites obsessive behavior in the broadest sense, whether we're talking about persistence in the face of skepticism from friends and family — not to mention poverty — or the devotion of hours to mastering a particular craft. Then there's the behavior of the truly obsessed, the unapologetic perfectionists, the slightly crazy geniuses.

Tampa resident David McKirdy is an artist of the latter variety. The title of his 30-year retrospective at the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, History of the Dot, sums up his life's work in a nutshell. Other ways of making art briefly occupied his attention along the way, but for the most part McKirdy, 60, has devoted three decades to making a single type of mark — the lowly dot — on paper and other materials.

His history begins during graduate studies at USF — not in art, as you might imagine, but in biology — where McKirdy developed an unusual predilection for stippling, a form of scientific illustration that involves rendering the specimen entirely in dots. From those pointillist roots, McKirdy found himself pondering what else — besides making pictures of objects — he could do with dots. Hearing a song on the radio mention 22,000 as the number of days in a person's life, McKirdy decided to see what such a large number really meant by making dots on paper. One 9-inch-by-9-inch "drawing" later (he actually pierced the sheet of paper with an etching needle 22,000 times), his journey as an artist had begun.

Soon, 22,000 dots became child's play for McKirdy, who devotes weeks of meticulous, repetitive process to each of his artworks. Making increasingly greater numbers of dots on larger surfaces, he also experimented with hot chisels to burn the dots (some of which look more like dashes) into paper and plastic, hole punches to remove dots from paper and layering black gesso or graphite on top of aluminum leaf to create recessed, metallic dots with the strike of a hammer. One staggering piece boasts a field of a quarter-million dots; a pair of headphones hangs beside it so visitors can hear McKirdy hammering away diligently — and quite rapidly — for 90 minutes (out of more than a month's labor). "I'm not doing it for the excitement," McKirdy muses, "There's not a thrill of spontaneity. ... It's about going to work and doing something that I believe in. I really like the field when it's finished, even though it is in some cases very grueling."

Even when he works with lines, McKirdy conceptualizes his work in terms of dots. Exhibit labels quote the artist Paul Klee: "A line is a dot that went for a walk."

Many of his works are double-layered, created by placing two pieces of pierced or burned glassine (a translucent waxed paper) about an inch apart inside the frame to create a disorienting moiré pattern. The same effect is reproduced in larger screens made of plastic (both black and white) and polyester, which hang in the gallery like tapestries. The larger the work, the more hypnotic and meditative the result.

By distilling art's communicative and self-expressive possibilities down to diminutive dots (and evoking the dot's myriad uses from Morse Code to primitive art), McKirdy hints at the profound question of how we make meaning — sometimes from the merest hint of message, picture or sensation. I guess you could say it takes a lot of little points to make one big one.


Only two weekends remain to catch a glimpse of Pablo Siebel's spirited works at the Gulf Coast Museum of Art. The Chilean-born artist, who has lived in Spain, Germany and New York, now resides in Vero Beach when he's not traveling to promote his artwork.

A series of his colorful, large-scale paintings on canvas, linen and upholstery, along with found-object sculptures, liven up the GCMA's largest sun-lit gallery. The paintings, unstretched and unfinished at the edges, hang flat on the gallery walls, covered with mask-like faces and intricate patterning that evoke indigenous Latin American art while advancing a vocabulary of Siebel's own. His bold use of color — saturated blues, reds, yellows, greens and plenty of fuchsia — as well as labyrinthine swirls and dots create arresting optical effects. The sculptures, assembled from found driftwood, fabric, metal and flowers, then painted, offer quieter but equally mysterious glimpses into the artist's symbolic world.

If you were near the old federal courthouse in downtown Tampa last Thursday, you may have caught sight of a public art project scheduled to tour a series of to-be-determined locations in Hillsborough County over the next year. The installation "Unexpected Faces, Unexpected Places," hopes to draw attention to the plight of the Bay area's homeless population with 300 paper bags featuring black-and-white photographic portraits of individuals, couples and families without a permanent place to live. The bags — meant to symbolize having only a bag to carry everything you own — will crop up in random locations throughout the county.

Several October exhibits open this weekend: "Interstice" at C. Emerson Gallery in St. Petersburg, featuring sculpture and drawings by father and son Mark and Jarrod Anderson (the former a Ringling College of Art and Design professor, the latter an emerging artist who lives in New York City). If you're up for a trek to Sarasota, two shows in that area promise to special treats. Greene Contemporary showcases a pair of contemporary artists with a fetish for the past: David Piurek, who turns Renaissance portraiture on its head (by coating it with black and brown clay), and Brian Haverlock, whose tiny, surreal portraits evoke Byzantine icons and Victorian photography. Mack B Projects re-opens after a summer hiatus, showcasing paintings by Kim Anderson (dreamy stills from home movies shot on Super 8) and David Kinsey (abstractions that explore the effects of technology on consciousness).

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