Hargis' All is Well
Thirty-plus years ago, governmental social policies started to change and budget
lines began to shrink for everything from inpatient and outpatient health care
for veterans to arts programming. Religious organizations (in the case of welfare
services) and charitable foundations were given the task of filling the gap.
Even for wealthier trusts, this meant that dollars needed to be efficiently
stretched. The outcome was that if arts organizations wanted funding, they had
to meet new criteria. These criteria centered on attracting, or more precisely,
serving a wider audience. A chamber quartet could no longer hope to get funding
to simply bolster their budget for a series of concerts that only their well-to-do
season ticket holders would enjoy. Instead, they had to develop educational
programs and perform/inform in library atriums for busloads of school children.
The same held for dance troupes and the like. At about the same time, we increasingly
found tomes of information about exhibits appearing on art museum walls. An
over-simplified timeline shows much attention has been given in the arts community
to their new role, eventually taking the responsibility as credo. Art becomes
a social contract, and the understanding and appreciation of art forms is made
available to the public at large. All well and good, with the caveat that meaning
and appreciation can be suggested but not directed.
Re-consider the impresario, confronted with this new standard put upon his
heretofore-insular world. Perhaps individual suffering or sacrifice means less,
given the needs of others, and in order to continue in the au courant graces
of audience and patronage, it may behoove one to give a nod of acknowledgement,
or a sign that one is capable of compassion. It is this sign of humanity, not
persistent cynicism that is to everyones benefit. In the process, the
tortured creative soul discovers the self-portrait is not unlike the faces of
those gazing back.
To The Hills
Kris Hargis has begun this journey of discovery, or so the press release for
current show at Froelick
would have us believe, turn(ing) his attention
to the trials faced by service members as they return from the battlefield to
everyday life. However, a qualification remains, for the very next sentence
lists self-portraits as part of the exhibition. And so, we try to determine
signs of his development from self-examination to the portrayal of another.
In fact, titles and a saluting figure in To the Hills aside, there
is very little in Hargis paintings that immediately suggests he has sought
out the living casualties of war to document their suffering, unless it is a
generalized personal pain that has haunted his paintings for years.
Me and You
Horrors often beget detachment, yet there is no despondency evidenced in Hargis
handling of media in his dynamic paintings; and here is where we may be more
conciliatory toward the stated commentary behind this current work. In the piece
from which the show is titled, Me and You, the artist extends his
left hand to the edge of the paper to where the canvas awaits. His gaze is fixed
on the viewer in a close study, while his right hand either fondles or covers
his genitals at the bottom of the paper. He is aware of anothers presence
and it is erotic. The Other is more present in Us, in which a male
and female sit next to one another. Both are naked, yet the female form is without
arms and legs, the bones exposed within the hacked-off thighs. Her pain has
been caused, perhaps by an incomplete understanding, or even by contempt. The
world with which Hargis begins to come to terms (me and you as opposed to you
and me) is still young, molten.
Hargis has a signature style, one borne more from repetition of a technique
than originality. The fluid, sometimes haphazard lines and pushed paint herald
back to fifty years ago when everyone in a drawing class learned the 30-second
life portrait and then called it art. That said, very little back then actually
was quality work, nor was it developed with the same insight to the troubled
soul that one finds with Hargis. You want grotesquerie and pain? Hargis
subjects greet you with steely-eyes that could kill; others look away afraid,
or, as in All Is Well, exhibit a numbed complacency. Hargis unflinchingly
shows us a world where relief and redemption are hard to find. But noting the
life-size formats of To the Hills and Remembered and Forgotten,
he is getting closer to others.
Which necessitates a return to the press release:
a small bird grips a fragile branch which blooms around him; flowers
wilt, captured in their last moments before dropping to the ground. Hargis,
with simplicity and restraint, takes the viewer on a journey through dark and
vulnerable places, and ultimately shows them to be a source of strength, beauty
and cause for hope.
Need for social relevance is generated from a lack, whether an injustice or
the desire for inclusion and recognition. Hargis portraits are social
only to the extent that they successfully emote the dark side of what it means
to be human. (So grim are these paintings, we are satisfied with the withered
flower arrangement and meet the finch with glee, glad to know that it may still
be alive.) In this time of a growing art collective consciousness of sorts,
Hargis still predominantly stands alone, but calls out, This is me seeing
the world. And, by and large, that world sucks. There is no turning that
view on its head to see the bright and shiny, unless, as Hargis has begun to
realize, we can take comfort in knowing were in it together.
Remembered and Forgotten
Hargis takes us into the darker places of human suffering. Yet, that darkness
can also be less a place of fates pain than the unknown: the mysteries
of life waiting to unfold; and one supposes, herein we might aspire toward some
hope. Painting through to that place might be one way to go about it, and reinforcing
that notion, Froelick has serendipitously given us another view on that bleak
but sustaining pursuit in the work of Miles Cleveland Goodwin. His paintings
are an alchemical mix of Odd Nerdrum meets Ingmar Bergman, and merit a tarry.
hello patrick, kris hargis here. i came across your writing the other day and have read it countless times. i am a visual person, although compelling, i am not sure i am able to grasp everything you've written as you may not be able to grasp everything i've drawn. then again, maybe that is unimportant. regardless, if you have any interest in meeting up to discuss your review and my exhibition, let me know. this may not be the norm for you, as it is not for me as far as critiques go , but i feel obligated to represent my work to the dust!
Kris, I'd be happy to meet with you. ptcpatrick at gmail.com