Hartigan's mastery is evident in Grimaldis exhibit


November 04, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

"When you know how to do it," Grace Hartigan said not lon ago, "it's time to move on." The exhibit of her recent work $H opening today at Grimaldis shows that she knows how to do it, all right.

For some years now the artist has been spattering her images with paint in a somewhat pointillist-inspired way. This results in works that visually vibrate with life and in which a dialogue is established between the representational and the abstract, as well as the surface of spatters and the image behind it.

In this style, the artist has created what are considered some of her best works in decades, and the ones at Grimaldis show her in complete mastery of it. These are enormously accomplished works in which one can see her even playing with the style, emphasizing now this and now that. "Casa" most closely resembles a movement of music, with an underlying structure and themes developed across the surface. The structure is the room itself, in which various elements such as fireplace, table, shelves and beamed ceiling are centered on a window through which one can vaguely make out a scene with a figure in it.

The themes here are the colors -- the primary ones, red, yellow and blue, each of which makes its major appearance in a different part of the painting -- blue of sky and wall, red of fireplace, yellow of table and floor. And the developments are the spatters covering the surface, in which the artist picks up the color themes and runs with them, raining drops of yellow across red, red and blue across yellow, yellow across blue. Look at the picture for a while and structure, theme and development carry on a continuous interaction, first one dominating, then another.

In "Memories of Mexico," Hartigan plays the game slightly differently, for the bulk of the painting is in colors, with a series of black and white stripes toward the lower right. Here the spatters are in black and white, so that what is minor in the image becomes major in the development. And again each element interacts with the other in dance-like fashion, now advancing, now receding.

In "Ritz Cabaret," color becomes much more psychological, the hot reds and acid yellows suggesting at once the heated-up atmosphere of the nightclub, the pulsing whine of the music and the high-pitched excitement of sexual attraction. In "American Family," the separate heads and the bodies that blend together possess a much more symbolic significance, standing for the discrete and coalescing aspects both of family membership and by extension of the American family.

The satisfactions of these works are manifold, and that's the word for them -- satisfactions. This exhibit is more consistently accomplished than the artist's 1990 show, but it does not convey quite as much excitement, nor a single painting as triumphant as "West Broadway." For Hartigan, as her work continually attests, the greatest thrill is that of discovery. These paintings speak of mastery.

One, however, indicates the moving on. In "Sporting Goods," the image emerges more definitely, drawing is given more prominence, and the spatter aspect comparatively less emphasis. Where this moving on will take the artist is yet to be determined. But to look at Hartigan's paintings is to understand the indefatigable searching spirit behind them. In one of Samuel Beckett's plays there is the line "I can't go on I must go on." With Grace Hartigan it is always "I must go on."


What: "Grace Hartigan: The Vulgar and Vital"

Where: The C. Grimaldis Gallery, 523 North Charles St.

When: 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays

Call: (410) 539-1080

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