Kara Hammond & Sara Frankel
New Faculty

Aug. - Oct.,2005

Both Sara Frankel and Kara Hammond are recent additions to the College of Charleston’s Studio Art department. This exhibition will show recent works by each artist, including drawings and paintings.

HAMMOND GALLERY

FRANKEL GALLERY

Kara Hammond
New Faculty

Bio

A North Carolina native, Kara Hammond received her undergraduate degree in Painting from East Carolina University in 1985. In 1987, she studied painting in Rome through the Tyler School of Art graduate program, Philadelphia, PA and went on to receive her Master’s Degree in 1989.

Since August of 2004, she has been an Assistant Professor of Drawing at the College of Charleston and continues to exhibit her work across the country. Hammond has lectured as a visiting artist/teacher at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, FL, the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC, the American University in Washington, DC, The North Carolina Museum of Art and the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA.

From 1990 to 2004, Kara Hammond lived and worked in Willamsburg, Brooklyn exhibiting frequently in New York. She has also been included in several international exhibitions in London, Amsterdam, Paris and Bogota in addition to numerous exhibitions in galleries, museums and art fairs throughout the United States.

Essay

A Delphic Tale Told in Nouns

Kara Hammond describes the imagery in her paintings and drawings as “scenes of everyday human existence.” That’s as good a summary as you’re likely to find of this straightforward but strangely varied collection of suburban homes, airport buildings, storage sheds, space vehicles, office complexes, freeway ramps, trash receptacles, outdoor toilets, and other artifacts of the consumer-inflected landscape.

The work is “post-” quite a few things, to use a bit of art historical jargon. They are post-commodity art in the sense that they are not preaching about humankind’s intrusions into the natural environment but merely recording them as factually as possible. They are post-appropriation in that the recording more or less takes for granted art’s manipulation of signs, and the curious relationships that arise when painterly subjectivity meets the photographic record.

But the term post- usually implies a residue of what came before, and one still sees a skeptical, theoretical bent at work in these placid, some might say traditional-looking subjects. Images as reductive and open-ended as haikus on the individual level reveal their critical drift when seen cumulatively.

In language terms Hammond’s images aspire to a condition of pure noun-hood. Typically she centers a single subject within a bland or neutral background, avoiding arty expressionist points of view. Her rendering takes pains not to call too much attention to itself, employing no more brushing or penciling than necessary to convey a subject.

In the painting Tyvek Beach House, 2005, for example, a boxy vacation dwelling sits calmly against a stark background of sea, sand, and sky. Clearly still under construction, the house sports an outer coating of insulation panels–the “Tyvek” of the title, a synthetic material often used by the building industry. Raised on stilts, the house has no apparent means of entrance or exit; what might be the building materials for a stairway lie in the foreground.

Houses like these can be seen on beaches all along the American coastline. Cheaply constructed, many disappear after their first hurricane. The painting gives us no clues for how long the building has sat like this: for all we know the developer is in receivership and the half-completed property is rapidly decreasing in value. While its destiny may very well be to become driftwood, the time element is supplied by a viewer; the image itself is frozen and as enigmatic as an oracular blurb from ancient Delphi.

Hammond’s graphite drawings are even more noun-like in being placed against plain white backgrounds, that is, in having no surroundings with which to interact. The individual images floating in the white space of the paper are as laconic as their titles: portapotty, garbage bags, ottoman, septic tank, jetpack, airport roundabout. One thinks of Ezra Pound’s Imagist poems of the early 20th Century, which sought to reduce the frilly, convention-laden verse of an earlier era to a singular pungent picture.

Collectively, however, the nouns modify each other, as the above list suggests. The viewer inevitably starts grouping them into themes and from there imagines oppositions, such as the “high” of human technological aspirations vs. the “low” of recycled bodily waste. There are complicating factors in these dichotomies, however. For example, where does the ottoman fit in? Is it truly low or just modest? Is a ship’s toilet high tech or low tech?

The work’s wry humor, subtle and hard to convey in words, keeps interpretations from being too pompous. The understated subject matter, willfully provisional style, and a whiff of mid 20th Century “populuxe” kitsch all work in concert. When it comes down to it, putting a jetpack–a personal “rocket belt” built but never mass produced in the ’60s–in the same show with a Johnny-on-the-Spot, still the state of the art in portable evacuation, is just funny.

Someone once attempted to define a story as follows: when you say “the king died, then the queen died” you don’t have a story but when you say “the king died because the queen died” suddenly you do. Visual art doesn’t need this kind of obvious narrative hook, its pleasure comes from the union of subject and drawing, what perceptual psychologists call the instantly-perceived “gestalt” of the work, followed by a process of puzzling through what’s right in front of you.

Hammond’s subjects don’t tell an action-packed tale such as “human artifacts are gradually replacing or destroying nature.” Instead, they state plainly and coolly that this is what’s in our environment and what we live with. The noun-hood reflects the awkward state of passivity we feel when confronted with systems too large to control.

You could argue that by keeping her focus relentlessly on the artificial, she is telling not just a story but a one-sided one, but in our over-developed, ecologically skewed, genie-out-of-the-bottle world, that’s a bit like the conservatives’ argument that we must “balance” evolution and creation science. It’s a false choice to sooth those blind to their changing surroundings.

Tom Moody, New York, 2005

Sara Frankel

Bio

Sara Frankel was born in Peoria, IL and holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa (1980) and a Masters Degree of Fine Arts in Painting from Yale University (1983).

She became an Assistant Professor of Drawing at the College of Charleston in 2004 and has taught drawing and painting at a number of other institutions including Dickinson College, Assumption College, Gettysburg College, University of Hawaii, Wesleyan University and University of Connecticut.

Her exhibition background includes solo exhibitions at numerous galleries throughout the United States. Awards Frankel has received include a National Endowment for the Arts Individual Fellowship in 1991, Pennsylvania Council for the Arts Individual Fellowships in 1996 and 2000 and a Massachusetts Arts Lottery Grant in 1984.

Essay

Immersion: Sara Frankel at the Halsey Gallery

In the Romantic era, in the early-nineteenth century, figures immersed in water signified a tragic fate, and expressed well a sense of anxiety in an age of revolution. From Anne-Louis Girodet’sDeluge,(1) a picture inspired by Nicholas Poussin’s earlier version of the fatal Biblical flood,(2) to Paul Delaroche’s Young Martyr,(3) to the English Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais’s masterpieceOphelia(4)-dunking meant drowning. It connoted despair, but also the hope for a hero to save the victim. Or, rather, the need for a hero in the first place (despite the fact that the original “Hero” in Ancient Greece witnessed her lover Leander drown in a storm as he swam the Hellespont to see her). Swimming as more placid recreation is a resolutely modern practice, despite the profusion of public baths in ancient Rome. Even in the late-nineteenth century, while people flocked to the seaside, they avoided the ocean itself.

Sara Frankel’s new work is of this Romantic ilk. This is ok. Ten years ago maybe not. But today it is kosher, when pluralism has replaced rigid theory, when art historians can again discuss surface and content and history and culture and life. When artists can once again express figuratively, and minimalism is more commonly relegated to dining room sets and sculptural memorial projects. Frankel’s recent work does not always promote a dialogue of dependency in the Romantic mode but, rather, essays in independence. Many of her subjects, often people close to her and even her family, enter the water with confidence. They are seen at sharp angles, with low horizons, emphasizing their liquid absorption.

Four years ago in Massachusetts Frankel was painting pictures of bodily organs suspended in the air, trailing veins and entrails and jetting across landscapes, works of grim mood and imagery and clotted surfaces. The present works mark a literal return to earth, and a response to local scenery of South Carolina. In a literal sense, there is more opportunity for bathing in the coastal Carolinas than in central Massachusetts, and such works connote a swimmer’s delight, but also may posit an underlying anxiety absent from New England late summers and autumns. I am thinking of hurricanes, and the recently completed Aftermath shows a scene related to the Romantic images cited above. A woman with the likeness of the artist on the left covers her eyes while carrying a young girl piggyback. The horizon hugs the top of the linen support, but reveals a smattering of suburban detached homes, telephone poles, streetscapes. The figures are in their bathing suits so, of course, something is not quite right here. Post-hurricane, does recreational swimming factor in one’s weekend plans? In the center a woman dives down under the surface, her buttocks buoyant. But a closer look may lead one to think that her body is lifeless, and her resurfacing unlikely. In the left middle ground a girl with closed eyes hovers in the water, her face exposed only from the nostrils up, and on the right a man tilts his head back to catch the radiant sun. But is he a sun bather or flotsam? Viewing such works and the family elements within them could trigger associations with recent tsunamis, and a sense of empathy, albeit from a distance. It is no wonder that the woman in the left foreground covers her eyes to avoid the carnage. Works like The Reach, also posed by the artist, seem to have a similar sense of uncertainty and need for direction. Apprehension pervades such pictures, and a sense of the intimate powerlessness felt by so many of us in this particular era, with threats beyond the wrath of only nature. Surrounded by domestic jetsam, she reaches out into the void of the lower edge of the support.

Throughout some of these works, single or bi-level suburban homes rise in the distance (see Ivan) or, sometimes quite magically, as in Flight, appear in the water, as some strangely inverted reflection or a distant view of an island landscape. Flight’s imagery and title confound expectations. Is the figure airborne, or evading pursuit? Are the bubbles flattened shapes or miniature windows on the world, traditional vanitas symbols representing the brevity of life and death in art since the Renaissance? This picture has a fine, dank tonality, the dark tones energetically colliding with, and repulsed by, the girl’s moving frame.

Careful inspection of two of the oils, Golden Girl and Large Green Woman, is revealing. In the former, the title seems again multi-referential-in a shimmering gold pool a female King Croesus clutches a floating white parcel while another sack, perhaps filled with treasure as in the story of that vain ruler of ancient Asia Minor, binds her right ankle and moors her to the spot. In Large Green Woman, the figure appears to be engaged in a confident backstroke but we sense that her progress is in jeopardy, as her lower left leg is entwined by a rope attached to a series of murky objects-pieces of lumber-that slowly wend their way to the ocean floor. The pleasure of these fluid and densely colored surfaces is mitigated by the menace literally below the surface. The bodily distortions, so well observed through study of figures in water and photographs, convey both movement and instability.

Most sensitive is the lovely series of three images of the artist’s daughter, Lucy, floating on her back, in large ink wash images titled Lucy Floating I and Lucy III, and the exquisite watercolor Lucy Up Close. Her hair spread wide, her head back, her eyes closed in bliss, this is no doomed Ophelia. With the bodily movement from right to left, and heads nearing the lower left corner of the paper, they remind me of Gustave Courbet’s unabashedly erotic masterpiece, Woman with a Parrot,(5) in which tendrils of hair fill the image, and the woman throws her head back in abandon, her eyes bright, yes, and her mouth open revealing shimmering teeth. Her pleasure is derived from a spirited parrot, but Lucy’s is far more chaste and sublime. It is a different aspect of Romanticism that is channeled here-a joy in childhood and its sense of wonder and opportunity. It is simultaneously a delight in immersion, and the release of tension attendant to lazing on the pool’s glistening surface.

JASON ROSENFELD is Assistant Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, New York, New York. He received his Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University and is currently completing a monograph on Sir John Everett Millais for Phaidon Press, as well as curating an exhibition on the artist at Tate Britain, London to open in 2007.

Copyright © 2005 Jason Rosenfeld. Reprinted by permission. All rights expressly reserved.

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