Jennifer Hunold and Jason Paradis
Saratoga Arts Center Gallery — April 2 through May 28, 2011
This is a shrewd pairing. The paintings of Jason Paradis, with 3-D elements, suggest sleeping under the stars, touching upon what is feral and also what is dark and divided. The pencil drawings and embroidered “sketches”, “drawings” and “paintings” of Jennifer Hunold suggest domesticity, invoking a sense of comfort, control and unity.
Considered only shallowly and casually, the combination of the two artists’ sharply contrasting work may trick the visitor into “recognizing” a duality that does not actually exist except inasmuch as can be created in the mind for the sake of convenience.
Both artists prepared gallery statements which are displayed prominently. Paradis is right to be sparse in his statements. Let the work speak for itself and theviewer apprehend it to build the connections that make sense of this stuff.
That being said …. a few words in the form of a review point to questions arising from the work of both artists.
The work displayed from Hunold is divided into four separate sections, which makes a general comparison with Paradis’s work difficult. Still, one might ask simple questions like, “How does the work make me feel?” “If I had to stay in the gallery all afternoon, where would I prefer to be … in the wilds of Paradis or in Hunold’s structured universe?”
That’s unfair of course. My guess is you’d say one thing but if you actually tried it you might find you’d made the wrong decision … as neither of these artists is a decorator! Their work offers challenges that are simply couched in dramatically different forms.
Let’s look at the two colored pencil-on-mylar drawings that are part of the “Dream Home Sweet Home” portion of Hunold’s show. Aesthetically pleasing? Certainly. What do we have here? Architectural floor plans but … the spaces have been filled with … PIXIE DUST!
I mean of course that Hunold has used varied bright, bold geometric patterns (I do notice that paisley isn’t one of them … they’re not clichéd patterns) to replace what otherwise would have been “trapped” white space. Oddities of … space. The floor plans have been (clearing of the throat) … MOD-if-ied. By all means enter the mod world of Jennifer Hunold.
Now … I’m reminded of a Charlie Louvin song that Gram Parsons, among others, covered: “Angels Rejoiced,” which begins with the line, “A house not a home.” I’m going to suggest that Hunold gives us just the opposite … the “home” without the house. By the “home” I mean the love, the dreams, the energy, warmth and devotion … this is what Hunold’s mod patterns suggest to me in this context. In the mundane world, floor plans are simply for buildings; but these floor plans are for something else entirely.
The embroidered pieces are slightly different. Here the stark forms are loosely rendered in embroidered thread … the “hominess” is expressed as gesture, namely, the visualization of Hunold’s hands sewing the designs on cloth in an act of devotion. Same idea, really … the object reference of a building becomes more or less a gag or at least a mere prop. There is no point in constructing a building from these floor plans … unless you’re a kind of magician who’s figured out how to build dreams, love, fun, hopes, joys, sorrows … from timber and nails and sheetrock, etc. Simply put there is much “more” in her plans than can be built with materials.
Now you make take this idea to the other “Dream Home Sweet Home” pieces, those done in generally loose hand embroidery, and see if you don’t find that Hunold has created a very very fine house, indeed, to quote from yet another song.
I should also mention the “Be Nice Series.” These pieces offer what appears to be reminders on … well not etiquette, exactly but on respect, basic courtesy and the simple acts of kindness that make it possible for human beings to coexist peacefully. There is something very funny about these messages (some of them very whimsical in themselves) being painstakingly and artfully embroidered on cloth … elevated to an art form. The pieces aren’t really “about” being nice: They’re about art after all.
The journaling portion of Hunold’s show is quite absorbing. Rather than giving us mundane details, she “sketches” impressions in thread. Taken individual, the images within the whole seem to make little sense: Stacked furniture, a “train” of toy ducks, the sun shining.” Taken together it’s a different story that tells how life is experienced on a certain level … as impressions in light, perhaps, but I believe the individual images convey feelings, passing emotions, fleeting notions.
There are some free form pieces as well. I could say they suggest possibilities but what would that mean to you, the end-user? Not so much. I think “free form,” for an artist, is more of a climax than a starting point. I’ve noticed that artists sometimes work from a single idea or premise: First some very literal images are produced but as the artist becomes more comfortable and “loosens up,” free-form work is produced that bears less and less “resemblance” to the original premise. Which is not to suggest that Hunold actually works in such deliberate order. It’s an idea of traveling from the mundane to the sublime or “enlightened” that might be useful, that’s all: Some viewers will identify the free-form pieces as representing art of the highest order.
Jason Paradis also frees us from our expectations regarding mundane forms. Indeed he incorporates natural elements such as branches and shed snakeskin in his work.
It’s a bold three-dimensional approach. The piece that greets the viewer upon entrance to the gallery … One Match (Polaris) … consists of a bundle of branches, tips out, emanating from the center of a map of the sky. We’re told that this represents the night sky above as it appeared the night of the show’s April 2 opening reception. Who supplies the match to light this “campfire?” Presumably it is you, the viewer. You’re in the gallery but you’re also spending a night under the stars.
There is a strong, literal sense to this idea of passing through a “wormhole” … entering the “other” dimension of art … in Paradis’s 9”x12” and 12”x9” “Passing Through” canvases. Here, complex polygons almost like box kites are made distinct via the artist’s use of varying textures from the “bare bones” of pencil sketches of what might be seen as “struts” or “beams” … structural elements at leastI ha … to paint to fabric textures suggesting landscape. The polygons could be seen as gateways or at least doors of perception with the textures supporting an idea of moving into another dimension. The pieces underscore the idea of art as an entrance to a higher consciousness.
So, too, does “Saratoga Night,” (Van Gogh references seem appropriate in the context of Paradis’s work) the tri-corner installation that dominates this Paradis side of (I did not mean the literary reference, honest) the show. A neat pile of rocks anchors bundles of strings which suggest beams of light connecting paintings on three walls. The paintings suggest asteroids or other planetary bodies. It’s a piece that seems to celebrate energy and spirit focused on or from a single point.
I believe a similar idea is expressed in “Three Fires.” There is what is perceived and there is the one who perceives and from this … something else arises called a perception. That is way of looking at it. Even Biblically speaking, there is more than one way of interpreting the holy Trinity. There is the basic family unit. Triangulation is an easy out for us, to speak. I have an idea there’s something else lurking around here and I invite you to find it.
There is a rather simple piece in the Paradis showing that I find quite pleasing. “Tree” is only 8”x5-1/2” and consists of a simple painting of a gree-leafed tree with leaves appearing to blow outward and upward in a gust of wind. In a gust of wind, yes, but the tree shows no “stress” in the form of bent or twisted branches. Instead there is what I’d call an Oriental sense to the piece, a state of calm reflection. There is a tiny section of a branch in the piece … not so much “incorporated” but sort of separate — although the leaves appear to be blowing up to it and it’s “treeness.” The art (painted leaves) is directly drawing the viewer’s eye to the natural tree element. This, indeed, is a truly organic piece that suggests timelessness.
Three of the pieces involve snakes … one includes actual snake sheddings, as I have said, and tree branches. These invite a sort of visceral response. There is a personal aspect, as Paradis could explain, with regard to the artist’s childhood. The pieces themselves are almost blatantly shamanistic, as one might expect. One should never ignore the power of art to awaken a sense of connection with spirits – by this I mean the idea that there is something around much larger than ourselves. That Paradis is sparse in his depiction of the snakes … mere outlines and shadows here, the thin, translucent membranes of sheddings there … emphasizes a ghostliness that reminds us we ever only catch glimpses of this overarching reality, this thing larger than ourselves. This discovery is empowering. Once one has made this connection, these snake pieces can be viewed as very serene as well.
Paradis’s technique is to use very tangible materials – sticks and stones and skin – and/or textures — to free us from the material world. And that, like Hunold’s getting us “out of the house” and into the home – is quite a triumph, indeed.
— Robert Preuss