You don't see this very often...
My good friend Kriston Capps not only delivers a review of Lucy Hogg's current exhibition at Meat Market Gallery in DC, but also adds something that is seldom seen in art criticism these days: humor! Read Capps here.
Three years ago I reviewed an exhibition by Hogg in Georgetown's Strand on Volta Gallery. Other than the declaration of "painting being dead," (feh!) and since the attempt at photography is dismissed by Capps, it sounds like the below review somewhat still applies to the painting part.
And I find it ironic that my review has a causal effect from her work of being a revival of painting, when Hogg now apparently has joined the ancient crowd demanding painting's death.
Substitute the names of the masters below with George Stubbs and Diego Velázquez... and by the way, I think that Hogg will continue to paint.
There’s such a dichotomy in this name; such a contradiction of stereotypes: Lucy, soft, feminine and flowing.
Hogg: heavy, masculine and powerful. And once you discover her artwork, you'll realize that seldom has a person been so aptly named.
Hogg is a tiny person, almost elfin-like; a complete reverse of what pops into the mind when it tries to visualize someone named Lucy Hogg. My mind came up with two characters: The first was as a sister or close kin of that big, fat, greasy character (Boss J.D. Hogg) in the Dukes of Hazzard TV series.
Because Hogg is Canadian, the other image was that of a secondary character in Robertson Davies’ fictitious small Canadian village of Deptford. A village that he creates superbly in The Fifth Business (part one of the Deptford Trilogy).
And this dichotomy, this Ying Yang of words and mental images, translates well to Hogg’s American solo debut currently on exhibition until October 30 at Georgetown’s Strand on Volta Gallery.
Hogg recently moved to Washington from her native Canada. She has exhibited widely in Canada, Asia and Europe, and in a town [DC] where most critics and curators continue to preach the death of painting as a viable contemporary art form, she brings something new and refreshing, pumping some new energy to the ancient medium.
Let me explain.
Salvador Dali once said that "those that do not want to imitate anything produce nothing." This is the Ying of Hogg’s exhibition.
And George Carlin added that "the future will soon be a thing of the past." This is the Yang of her show.
Titled "Sliding Landscapes," the exhibition consists of nearly twenty paintings segregated into two different canvas shapes: oval shapes on the gallery’s left main wall and rectangular shapes on the right wall. Each set of paintings deliver individual ideas, and although tied together by the subject matter, they nonetheless express superbly two sets of thoughts and impressions that I think Hogg wants us to see.
Hogg’s imagery are copies of Old Master paintings, "sampled" (a new word introduced into art jargon from rap music’s habit of using other people’s music or someone else’s lyrics in your music) from a series of capriccios, or fantasy landscapes by 18th century Venetian painters Canaletto, Francesco Guardi and Marco Ricci.
"Fantasy" in the sense that the landscapes only existed in the artists’ minds until created by them and re-invented two centuries later by Hogg.
I must clarify from the very beginning that these paintings are not "copies" in the same sense that you see people sitting in front of paintings in museums all over the world, meticulously copying an Old Master’s work, stroke by stroke.
Therein lies another dichotomy in this exhibition: Reading a description of Hogg’s subject matter brings that image to mind; seeing them destroys it. This is one show where the most erudite of news release spinmeisters will be challenged to separate the two visions.
So what are they?
Hogg starts with a capriccio painting that she likes. I suspect that she works from a reproduction, even a small one, or from an art history book or catalog, and thus cleverly avoids the pitfall of becoming a true copier rather than a sampler.
She then re-creates the capriccios in their original format (rectangular), but completely replaces the color of the original with a simple tint or combination of tints.
Simple enough... Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.
It isn’t simple at all.
What Hogg has cleverly done again is to offer us two visual main courses. Sure, she's recreating the original painting, overly-simplified and yet still complex with the seed of great painting and composition planted by the original Masters. But she has also provided herself with a radical new vehicle to flex some very powerful painting and creative skills of her own.
The overly simplified paintings offer her ample room and opportunities to bring a 21st century perspective to these works. Not just her very modern colors (cleverly incorporated into the titles such as "Fantasy Landscape (pthalo green/chrome oxide green) 2004"). Her scrubby, energetic brushwork is everywhere, especially the open skies of some of the works, and where 18th century masters would have reacted in horror, a modern audience takes their middle age glasses off so that we can better try to absorb the quality of the brushwork and peer at the under layers, often left exposed, that reveal the virtuosity of being able to deliver an exciting painting with a very limited palette.
Even within these rectangular recreations, Hogg has a Ying Yang thing going. A group of the pieces are truly monochromatic, using only ultramarine blue or yellow ochre.
In these, the simple associations of cool and warm colors mapping to respective emotions is what anchors our responses to them. But there are some pieces where she has ventured into two distinct colors (such as violet and burnt sienna orange). In these, the opposite position of these hues on the color wheel, and their well-known association with eye-brain responses in creating tension and movement, position these works as a very successful venture into the exploration of color, never mind the landscape that is the vehicle.
Vision two of the exhibition are the oval paintings. Here we again see the same explorations in color and painting that Hogg offered us in the rectangular pieces. But then she opens a new door for us; perhaps even a new door for contemporary painting.
I would have dared to write that she has opened the lid in the coffin of painting, but that would lend tacit approval to the claim that painting is like a "vampire that refuses to die." So I won’t.
In the oval paintings Hogg introduces us to a combination of two (again with the two) elements: the re-visualization within a limited, psychological palette plus a new methodological visual cropping and angling of compositional elements within the original paintings, placed in a new format (oval) and haphazardly hung at crazy angles on the gallery’s left wall. By the way, at the risk of becoming too pedantic, I didn’t like the tilted, askew, haphazard hanging of these pieces. It was a bit heavy handed and went too far to push the fact that they are indeed "sliding" landscapes.
Suddenly we discover two effects (i.e. she has another duality thing going here for the dimwits in the audience): Combine the psychological effect of color with a reorganization of the actual image's presentation and you have suddenly changed the entire character and effect of the painting!
This is the punch to the solar plexus that every artist hopes to accomplish in any exhibition. It is the moment when you stand in front of a piece of artwork, riveted to a sudden discovery that this, whatever "this" may be, has never been done, at least not this well, before.
Here is what I mean.
In the oval pieces, Hogg repeats the paintings from different perspectives or angles; suddenly her choice of colors is not the main driving force; but the relationship between the choice and the subject and the perspective and angle is the new driving force(s).
For example, in one oval piece she offers a calm, cool agrarian view, somewhat disorienting us by the angle and crop, especially when we try to find her source on the left wall's rectangular paintings. Within this painting, a horseman rides up an incline. He is deftly rendered in cool, quick brushstrokes to deliver a placid Sancho Panza character before he had the misfortune of meeting Don Quixote.
Slightly above and to the right of that painting there's another painting, which although it is exactly the same scene, and because it is offered from a slightly different perspective and in a completely different palette, it takes us a minute or two to realize that it is the same scene.
But what a different scene it is! The sky is now a turbulent hellish nightmare of cadmium red and quinachrodne red exaggerated so that the clouds have almost become flames, and the happy farmers of the companion piece are now haggard, beaten figures toiling in a new Dantesque level of hell, where the Sancho Panza horseman is now tired, beaten and barely staying atop his poor horse.
And this is all happening in our mind. Because all that this gifted painter has done is change the perspective and offer us colors that complete different neural paths that create different reactions in our brain.
And the best thing of all is that she didn’t need a video, or an installation, or dioramas of two-dimensional works, or ten pages of wall text to explain the concept. And in these pieces, the finished works are as interesting and successful as the concept itself; not a trivial accomplishment by the way.
All she needed were superbly honed painting skills, a deep understanding of the relationship between color and emotions, an intelligent perspective on composition, and a grab at art history to offer us (yet again) something new and refreshing from that never ending source of surprises: the dusty coffin of painting.
Bravo Lucy! ... Well Done Hogg!