I have often seen Mary Hartman’s work in reproduction but never got to see an exhibition until now. On one occasion I was sure I recognized her work on an exhibition card, and I noted that she had forgotten to include her name. This lack of self-advertising coupled with an egoless immersion in the work itself made me even more determined to see her next show.
She is here showing works entitled, “Horse,” each of which deals with a drawing of one horse. She includes both small drawings that appear to be directly observed from life, and eight larger works that she has called the “Small Farmer’s Journal” series, which I think may have received their initial impetus from photographs seen in the above journal for independent-minded farmers.
As I see it, these drawings are all worked on in an effort to understand and bring meaning to the form. In the larger ones, the imagery has been so internalized that the horse emerges in a very few marks, rather like the Chinese painter who employs only a few brush strokes to evoke the spirit of the bamboo.
And it reminds me of Turner’s way of working from the observational sketches he made, later enriching them with his own imagination and memory. This differs totally from merely drawing or painting from a photograph.
The gestural in painting, which is always seductive and can be suspect – we are so vulnerable to expressive manipulation - is, in Hartman’s works, not the sign of the casual come on, but the result of the master whose depth of commitment to the process allows us to see the inner reality of the natural subject matter she has chosen. She, herself, can afford to remain anonymous.
While Hartman’s drawings emerge at the time of the making of the marks on paper or canvas, W. Gerome Temple has designed and planned each attribute of each drawing beforehand. Also, while Hartman uses the actual visual world of nature as subject,
For instance, in “Phonomagnadynometer”, one of his small stylized, stick-like figures in uniform mans an enormous and bizarre contraption reminiscent to me of parts of bagpipes fitted together, engaged in some fanciful function, maybe musical, maybe military, maybe both.
Another pen and ink drawing, “King Corprophameus”, simulates an entomological illustration of four believable but improbable insects laid out symmetrically on the paper, while underneath, the identification tells us they are: “a mature King Corprophameus, 2 post larvae domidae and one microscopic skiwiligeaziope.”
I think my favorite is “Back-up Reinforcements”, which shows a line of identical, extremely tall figures ending in tiny heads with a little flap beneath the chin which could be read as the vestigial remains of the arm and hand. And these columnar figures sport wheels for feet, one large and one small like in a penny-farthing cycle, giving them a curiously festive air.
This strikes me as a clever depiction of the future human who, through atrophy, is beginning to morph into a mechanical object whose applications will be as obscure as those we have already seen.
But some things may remain all too familiar to us. The caption beneath reads:
They stand at attention all in a row • These back-up reinforcements are always ready to go.
Works by Garcia, Temple and Hartman @Grand Bohemian Gallery through March 30.
Bertha Husband is a native of Scotland and a painter who graduated from the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford University and has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She has been writring art criticism for over 20 years in publications that include