Wednesday, November 28, 2012
VALERIE HEGARTY: Figures, Flowers, Fruit
Upon the splattered, cracking, punctured walls of Nicelle Beauchene Gallery are displayed simultaneously humorous and grotesque works by Valerie Hegarty in her solo show Figures, Flowers, Fruit. The first piece that the viewer encounters is a still life painting of a watermelon wedge that sculpturally extends out of the picture frame mimicking the form of a large, plump, dripping tongue. Watermelon Tongue, from which a bloated pink tongue protrudes into the viewer's space, provoking feelings of disgust and amusement. By combining such an iconic food item as watermelon with the grossly exaggerated, yet immediately recognizable shape of a human tongue, the work conjures associations to lust and gluttony. Inspired by an episode in China in which genetically engineered watermelons exploded due to the flesh growing more quickly than the rind, the piece hints at the darker concept of mankind's fascination with manipulating nature to make it produce in ways that are no longer natural, and that those pursuits may yield undesirable results.
Continuing the theme of nature and human greed, the works Girl in White with Flowers and Flower Frenzy both display "natural" growth and decay overcoming material objects and spaces. Girl in White with Flowers depicts a woman in a white dress. Plant matter erupts from the part of the portrait the viewer knows should be a face, as well as from a small emergence near the figure's hands and lap, and several leafy vines that cascade from the bottom of the canvas. By concealing the face of the figure Hegarty contradicts traditional attempts to preserve a likeness in portraiture, and instead reminds the viewer that appearances are impermanent. Similarly, a nearby painting of a flower still life also bursts with twigs and plants, but the proliferation of growth continues to spread beyond the confines of the painting, seemingly encouraged by the water damaged and peeling surface of the gallery wall that was made to look decayed. Flower Frenzy seems to reference flower still life paintings made during the 1600's, a time when the inflated economic value of real flowers was higher than the paintings depicting them.
Exploding Peaches is a framed painting depicting a still life of peaches, but is riddled with perforations as though it has been repeatedly shot with a gun. The peaches are painted to look as though the bullets are hitting them, causing them to burst all over the painting and their juices to splatter on the gallery wall. The destruction of the subject matter differs from the other works in this show as it isn’t implied that nature is responding to greed or time, but instead is the result of a human act of violence. The way the peaches depicted in the work seem to spray outside the edge of the frame also test the conventional assumption that there is a delineation between the artwork and the gallery space that houses it.
Each of the works in the show push the boundaries of traditional painting with the inclusion of non-traditional media such as modeling paste, paper, glue, foil, gauze, glue, and thread, and by creating a specific context for each work by purposefully "damaging" the gallery environment around it. Hegarty also uses quirky humor to communicate multiple layers of meaning. The messages of greed, vanity, and violence are presented in a novel way. The aggressive and absurd presentation of fruit and vegetation are entertaining and expressive, but the works also convey deeper criticisms regarding the selfish and reckless qualities of human nature.