Soon to be a memory: "Multi-focus Memoryscapes" at Seton Art Gallery
Seton Art Gallery at the University of New Haven
Doods Hall, University of New Haven, 300 Boston Post Rd., West Haven, (203) 931-6065
Through Mar. 28, 2013.
Multi-focus Memoryscapes, which closes tomorrow, is a three-artist show—painter William McCarthy, painter/mixed media artist Graham D. Honaker II and photographer Hank Paper (objectivity alert: this writer's employer)—hung to exploit the complementarity of the varying imagery. And the variations are substantial—comprising Paper's perceptive and witty street photography, McCarthy's austere and spiritual landscapes and Honaker's unique mélange of collage, painting and assemblage.
One wall serves as a perfect example of how slyly this show was put together by curator Laura Marsh. Facing the entrance, the wall displays, left to right, a McCarthy painting ("These Dreams"), a Honaker mixed media work ("The stewardess") and Paper's photograph "Terminal."
|Multi-focus Memoryscapes: from left to right, "These Dreams" by William McCarthy, "The Stewardess" by Graham D. Honaker II and "Terminal" by Hank Paper|
The three works could barely be more different. But—Honaker's "The Stewardess" acts as the fulcrum, the hinge connecting the three works. Like all Honaker's pieces, "The Stewardess" is dense with imagery—old magazine photos, advertisements and product packaging are layered in a clear epoxy resin with abstract drips and smears of paint and his hand-cut repeated stencil image of a stewardess. As a composition—despite the fact that it employs representational imagery—it is an abstraction, defying the viewer to create narrative meaning out of the panoply of juxtapositions. It contains multitudes. Do its disparate images relate to each other in a coherent way? At least formally, they do. It is exciting to look at.
Compared to Honaker's "The Stewardess," McCarthy's "These Dreams" and Paper's "Terminal" are quiet. But there is a subliminal sense to their side-by-side display. Splashes of teal and orange paint in "The Stewardess" are answered by the presence of similar pigments in McCarthy's misty, mysterious landscape. That teal is also hinted at in the shadow in the corner of a wall abutting a window in "Terminal." And, of course, a stewardess—or flight attendant, in contemporary parlance—could be found prowling the corridors of an airport terminal.
Each of these works in their own way shows off the strengths of the individual artists. McCarthy's paintings are works of imagination rather than depictions of specific locations. They appear to be as much about the pleasures of working with paint and color as they an idealization of nature. Detail is as important to McCarthy as it is to Honaker. But for McCarthy, that attention to detail manifests itself in a completely different way—in layering colors, in the textures afforded by varying brush strokes.
Paper is a street photographer of uncanny perception, his antennae always up to serendipitous moments, some wry, some poignant. In "Terminal," the viewer see five jets in formation, presumably part of an air show, zooming past the floor-to-ceiling windows. But this evocation of unfettered motion and speed is counterbalanced by the appearance on the right of the frame of a wheelchair with its occupant's legs and clasped hands visible. Another photograph, "Where Are You?", was shot in a restaurant. A chic young blonde woman, sitting alone at a table for two, clasps her pink cell phone to her ear. On the wall behind her is a print of a Roy Lichtenstein comic strip-inspired painting of a similar blonde woman on the phone, the word balloon reading, "I don't know what to say." Paper has apparently never meta set-up he didn't recognize, camera in hand. Then there is the subtle social critique of the diorama scene in "Miss America Museum." A cutout of a young African-American girl in a red turtleneck and blue overalls clasps her hands together in delight as she surveys an array of Miss America dolls, games and photos while a crown is placed on her head. But all the images of Miss America are white.
Memory being the thematic hook of this show, it's notable that the concept is applicable to each artist's work in different ways. McCarthy's landscapes are works of memory and imagination, conjuring a sense of place out of his recollection of light, scenery and paint. Paper's photograph's capture moments in memory but do so in a way that invites deeper consideration and contemplation. The imagery in Honaker's works is treated much the same way memories are in dreams—as material to be reshuffled and re-contextualized, to be made strange and fantastic. Perhaps, like memories in dreams, these three artists' works shouldn't fit together. But they do.