Keen eye and cunning craft
Hannah Cole is a painter with a sharp visual curiosity and a perfectionist’s dedication to technique. She has two shows up, at Steven Zevitas Gallery and Laconia Gallery, and they are wildly different. But both hinge on acute observation of things most of us don’t bother to notice.
The Brooklyn-based artist got her master’s at Boston University and has shown at Alpha Gallery. There, she painted her world from the inside of a car, using mirrors, windows, and movement to crisply plumb human perception. She persists with that vantage point in the Laconia show but takes a huge leap out of the rectangular frame, cutting wood panels to echo the shapes of a windshield, a window, or a rearview mirror. The experience of motion is visceral, and there’s much more going on.
“Tunnel Vision’’ peers out the windshield from the passenger seat into the tunnel ahead. The panel’s swooping shape is wide on the right, sharp and more pointed on the left, accelerating the speed already conveyed with the blur of an SUV passing.
Cole has cunningly crafted a rearview mirror painting that juts from the panel. In it, she re-creates Hudson River School painter Thomas Cole’s “Romantic Landscape With Ruined Tower.’’ It denotes where she has come from. Now she’s in a time chute, a tunnel lined with white lights, red stripes, and a black ceiling. Where she’s going - that light up ahead - we don’t know.
The bottom edge of “Tunnel Vision’’ arcs over what would be the dashboard; to the left, little bubbling cuts indicate the driver’s fingers on the wheel. Cole insinuates the figure here, and takes it all the way in “The Discussion.’’ The painting depicts a nighttime scene outside the driver’s window. Spare, swift strokes of red, white, and silver suggest a car passing. Lights reflect on the glass. I got drawn into all these details and didn’t notice until I stepped back that the panel’s edge describes the driver’s profile. It’s a daring figure-ground inversion.
She goes even further with two ambitious paintings in the Laconia lobby, which provide a bridge to the Zevitas show, depicting walls along city streets. “Dusk’’ comprises multiple shaped panels; the negative spaces in between carve out white silhouettes of people alongside an astute realist depiction of graffiti (painted not with spray paint, but with oil paint flicked off a stiff brush) on a blue-shadowed brick wall.
Over at Zevitas, one little watercolor, “Draw Now,’’ speaks for the whole show. It captures a Post-it, curling slightly from a wall, scribbled with the Zen-like instruction “draw now think later.’’ Other watercolors depict loops of tape adhered to the corners of paper, and pins casting wee T-shaped shadows. In “Pins #2’’ each pin casts three shadows, and two are nearly invisible.
Cole’s obsessive attention to detail is mind-boggling in “Beyond,’’ a painting of a scrim of green vinyl mesh over a chain-link fence - that’s pattern over pattern, with light shining through at an angle, and glimpses of what’s on the other side. Other paintings, of her scuffed-up studio wall and of graffiti, are so carefully made, there’s a trompe-l’oeil effect. Tape ripped or curling on the wall of her studio looks like a scrap of tape right on the canvas.
She must spend a lot of time experimenting with how to apply paint to resemble grime, or spray paint, or almost nothing at all. Setting these little tasks for herself - how to paint a nearly invisible shadow? How to convey the torn edge of paper? - Cole compels us to look more closely.
All her works here blend exquisitely rendered elements of nature painting and still life (clusters of grapes, hummingbirds, bats) with design elements, unfurling patterns that seem to weave in and out of three-dimensional space. The fruits are often pendulous (some look positively scrotal); the animals are often copulating. It’s a bacchanalia, made the more giddy by the way Blatman plays with depth, flatness, and our perception of space.
“Lemon Spray’’ is cut out of three panels, each edged with a pretty chaos of baroque curves, from which spring outlines of flowers and birds, even a kangaroo. These cast ornate shadows on the wall, and the negative space between them is curvaceously feminine. Similar flourishes fly over the surface in flat dove-white - they appear to spurt ecstatically from brawny stems - caressing gorgeously rendered, plump clusters of hanging lemons and bats.
There’s a lot of conflicting visual information here, and Blatman weaves it together in a way that creates the same kind of sensual tension she sparks with her seemingly tame, yet undeniably erotic imagery.