Common Ground: Works Focus on Ideas

By Carol Ferring Shepley Robert Duffy | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), June 9, 1994 | Go to article overview

Common Ground: Works Focus on Ideas


Carol Ferring Shepley Robert Duffy, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Missouri Visual Artists' Biennial

Where: Art St. Louis, 917 Locust Street (St. Louis Design Center)

When: Through June 30

Hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday

THE three artists selected for the 1994 Missouri Visual Artists' Biennial present completely different work. William Hawk's paintings are representational; Janet Hughes' sculptures are conceptual; and Marilyn Mahoney's drawings are abstract. Yet all three, the two women from Kansas City and Hawk from St. Louis, incorporate meaning in their work beyond the purely formal.

The Biennial was created by the Missouri Arts Council to exhibit the work of important state artists throughout Missouri and to grant them a stipend. Four state arts professionals and one out-of-state expert chose the winner. This year Amanda Cruz, assistant curator of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., served as the guest curator and wrote the catalog essay.

Hawk uses oil paint to apply glazes over underpaintings of forms rendered only in light and shadow. This creates a surface deep in glowing color and lacking in visible brushwork. His landscapes and his human figures seem archetypal and expressive of concepts that can barely be put into words. You will find yourself drawn in to weird worlds, wondering, "What does this mean?"

In "Passover," 1992, a naked man kneels in front of a naked woman under a structure of poles, like an extended chuppa, the canopy used in the Jewish wedding ceremony. Both wear red blindfolds as they leave paradise to "renegotiate their relationship," in the words of the artist. Surrounded by flames, she is the source of energy. As she touches his shoulders, her power galvanizes him as well. Behind them, in the beautiful landscape, a small fire spurts up.

What to make of this combination of ideas in one image? Hawk explains: "The intent is neither to illustrate nor narrate, but rather to tap some ineffable aspect of our existence."

Janet Hughes combines sculpture, photography and collage to create works exploring the ironies of self and relationships from a feminist point of view. She sculpts books, immobile with pages unturnable, yet freighted with all the associations of reading. These she covers with collages of phrases and faces. Relying heavily on the word, she twists and recombines cliches so they take on new and arresting meaning.

In "Double Vision," for example, her book contains two images of the same woman. It reads: "She looked in the mirror and saw the other woman." The other woman generally means the husband's mistress, but in this case it means the strangeness of the self. In addition, the book carries two series of resonant phrases - "double talk, double vision, double meaning, double standard" and "reflects, reflected, reflective."

While the Hawk paintings are beautiful but strange, the Hughes works are not lovely to look at. It is their concept, the meanings they convey, that intrigues the mind. Working counter to the historical concept of the female as symbol of the beautiful in art, Hughes focuses on an intellectual interpretation of the feminist condition. "Woman has been constructed by patriarchal tradition as a permanent object of scrutiny rather than as a speaking subject," she explains.

Marilyn Mahoney draws huge abstractions of three-dimensional forms that relate to architecture, industry, motion and music. …

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