Hartigan's new exhibit at Grimaldis Gallery suggests history but remains contemporary

April 02, 1992|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

Grace Hartigan's "Another Hunt," one of the best works in her new show at C. Grimaldis Gallery, takes us on a little trip through the history of modern art while remaining thoroughly Hartigan and thoroughly contemporary.

Its horses and riders remind us of Degas, but there's something about the principal rider's black hat and formal air that speaks of Manet. The spattering of yellow paint that seems to hover over the surface can, of course, recall Seurat's pointillism, but the yellow and the brilliant red riders' coats combine to suggest the dazzle of impressionist dabs of brightness.

The rider and horse in front appear to exist in space, yet the effect is countered by the flatness of the horse and rider behind and above, which emphasize the picture plane and deny illusionism.

The action of the rear horse, contrasted with the more static feel of the one in front, parallels, figuratively, the sense of the making and the made. The gesture of the artist is evident everywhere, yet there is an equal sense of the completed, the finished, the resolved. And the spatters give all-over-painted abstraction to a work which is also quite definitely a picture, with traditional subject matter at that.

If this is perhaps the most completely satisfying of Hartigan's works here, it leads a group of paintings that finds her working in high form and, happily, continuing to test limits.

"Black Ivory" is Hartigan at her most abstract (though you can see a figure in it if you really try), all dynamics and color from the black splashes at the top of the painting to the areas of deep red and blue at the bottom. But this is not simply a formal exercise; it has emotion, too, and energy and tension, and a kind of headlong rush that resolves itself in those pools of color at the bottom, as of a visual expression of storm followed by calm.

This work could be said to reflect the artist in a way, for in the past few years Hartigan's work has reached a resolution of its own. It has taken on a heightened sense of confidence and command. It communicates the artist's awareness of utilizing her powers to the full.

But there is nothing complacent about these works, except for the disappointing series of six watercolors of dolls, which veer off from the gutsy in the direction of nice little pictures. The paintings, on the other hand, exhibit a strong element of exploration.

Always a master of color, here Hartigan experiments with light. It is light, not white, that threatens to envelop and dissolve the viewer of "Pale Horse, Pale Rider," that reaches out of the picture even as the horse gallops through it. And it is light that flickers across "Visiting Peggy G.," in which the Pollock-like drips remind us that visiting Peggy Guggenheim would involve looking at Pollocks.

"Family Dinner" represents another kind of exploration. Art history and contemporary life have been alternating interests of Hartigan's. Here she combines them in a cozy domestic scene most unusual for her, no glitz and trash, no kings and queens, but a genre painting. The Dutch 17th century is recalled, but there's a certain air of mystery about the relationship of this couple at table that adds a level of interest.

The show runs through May 2 at the C. Grimaldis Gallery, 1006 Morton St. Call 539-1080.

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