Like God, aliens exist (or don’t) regardless of whether you believe in them. But belief is transformative: it can bring purpose, empathy, and meaning to a world that privileges certainty and predicates survival on selfishness. Ken Grimes is convinced aliens not only exist, but have been among us for decades. This faith has found facts in the slippery ephemera of UFO literature, military doublespeak, and Hollywood sci-fi. And it has flowered on 35 years’ worth of his canvases, mostly supergraphic black-and-white, often text-based, each effective in its communication that his conviction is a vibrant, visionary power.
Evidence for Contact moves briskly through Grimes’s voluminous output of 21st-century work. A few themes emerge: grids, which he fills with black gesso for landscapes that recall a crossword puzzle’s prompt for answers, the fiddly formations of Tetris, and early digital animation; binary code, whose zeroes and ones form both ominous data fields and friendly living figures; and an interest in portraiture that appears less about capturing some “truth” of the subject and more about amassing a community of fellow travelers. Asserting the presence of believers in his paintings is also urgent.
Grimes’s paintings trade in arcana, to be sure, and a working knowledge of SETI or the 1961 abduction of Barney and Betty Hill might offer context for the lengthy narratives of his own research that often fill the canvases. Those encounters are the sum, more or less, of the biographical content of his work. Some facts are these: Born in 1947, he was drawn to sci-fi movies as a kid, was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s, spent much of the 1970s hospitalized, was included in the landmark American Folk Art Museum show “Self-Taught Artists of the 20th Century,” and now lives and works at Fellowship Place in New Haven. One may find answers to his questions—why these obsessions, and why these forms for them—in those facts. Evidence for Contact offers an alternative framework: alien life forms have already connected with humans because connection is what life is all about.
As the text of one of his paintings declares: “I believe it is very disturbing to think that we are the only intelligent life in the universe.”