Friday, April 19, 2013

Romanticism in Lafayette

John Hathorn: A Retrospective at the Acadiana Center for the Arts assembles forty works from the 80's till the present and reflects the period during which the artist, born in 1954 in Oxford Mississippi, lived in Louisiana. At first glance, the dominant colors, red and black, hint a romantic flavor to the show.

The installation inspired by the well-known Raft of the Medusa from  Géricault and Shakespeare's play The Tempest takes over the first room. An assemblage of pulleys hanging from the ceiling holds the raft, a wooden plank covered with scattered paintings, sketches, notes, a book, oil can and diverse objects. One can imagine a lonely artist tossed on a sea of emotions, a very romantic theme featuring the heroic individual who transforms his emotions in aesthetic experiences.
Following a tour around the Raft (2012), the paintings on the walls reflect Hathorn's interest with the color red. Among them, A Note on Red, 2000, a blood red thick impasto with a colored sample (the artist's blood?) in a vial hanging from a thread attached to the canvas or Suspension in Red,1985, a red composition interrupted by a dark vertical side with a pencil (the artist's tool?) hanging from a thread. Later in the exhibition, a new series of eleven works, The Cardinalis Sketches, is represented by On Rilke's Fifth Elegy, 2012. Hathorn statement about this series "the color red serves as a point of departure both formally and conceptually" is a testimony of his ongoing fascination with red.
 The Baudelaire Sketches series (2009-2012), The Grammar of Water series from 2006, have the same flavor of Abstract Expressionism and a muddy brown color provides the background of the stormy compositions.
The First Word of a Poem (on Rilke), 2012, The Desire to Paint (on Baudelaire), 1998 and other paintings allude to Hathorn's interest for poetry and his search for correspondence in art. The titles are poetry on their own: The Silence of the Void, The Benefits of the Moon..., some compositions include written lines of poetry.
Looking at the paintings brings the visitor to a second large room centered around a complement to the raft: the artist's work table covered with vials, filled with colored potions, bits and pieces, including a waste basket full of used tubes of paint. The artist shares his most private moments (the act of creation) and gives a sanctified view of the artist in front of his altar.
In the same area, Cardinal, 1996, includes an ironing table covered with oil paints of different colors next to the canvas hung on the wall. Like the writer's notebook filled with scratched, erased, revised words, the painter's gigantic palette is the colored testimony of his labor.
In the same vein, two palette sculptures (1994-1996) covered with a thick impasto (several inches) become tormented landscapes sculpted with a knife.
The search for "the poetry of light", "the sanctity of light" like in Large Bather, 1997, inspired by Rembrandt and Vermeer has been haunting the artist.

The repetitive themes and uniformity of colors generate some boredom as over the years, Hathorn's message and technique have stayed consistent and his lengthy comments next to the works leave no place for humor.

Introduction and conclusion to the show, the raft sums up the retrospective as the word romanticism sums up its content.

(My visit was on the exhibition's last day)

photographs by the author:

Raft, 2012
The Grammar of Water (Twelfth State), 2006
Suspension in Red, 1985
View of the second room

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