ELENA MELISSA HILL & SIMON HUGHES: HYPERSURREGIONALISM
Elana Melissa Hill
Hill’s art practice is an exercise in cartographic thinking and process based painting. Playing through the pictorial history of abstract means and representational meme’s, Hill’s particular brand of imagery is reminiscent of Turner’s turbulent seascapes but with a postmodern twist. In Hill’s work the hand of the artist is almost altogether missing, allowing weathered surfaces to congeal into inerrant forms of naturalism. This particular methodology departs from the environment itself — urban or natural — by literally capturing some of the textures, colors and various modes of inscription that issue from Hill’s open air studio. Even when she chooses to introduce a recognizable pictorial motif, like a palm tree or a city skyline, it almost always suggests a kind of visual slippage between the real and the artificial, the natural and the inorganic, a fullness of form and a flattened out silhouette.
As a mix of western modernism and eastern perspectivalism her hybrid compositions play across a broad spectrum of identifactory markers. Hill has described her images as “palimpsests of other’s imagined ideas”, as “an assembly of anachronisms” and as “huge living bodies where electricity, sewage, water, gas, humans and other resources are pumped through the dense flesh of cement, metal and dirt.” Caught between post-apocalyptic narratives, the visual tropes of sci-fi cinema and discrete topologies of the everyday, her layered pictures offer us a trace of the present as an image of the cultural imaginary.
Like some of the most challenging contemporary voices in landscape painting today, Hill’s pictures are a catalog of unstable and fluctuating ideas about local, and especially about image production in So Cal. However, her newest body of paintings departs from the cinematic format that has defined her last few years of production — a shift that has allowed her work to take on a greater sense of complexity with regard to improvisation, material impressions and the power of suggestion. As a fluid cartography of process, pentimenti and place, Hill’s paintings offer us an allegory of experience that reflects the fluctuating horizon of contemporary life. Whether seen as a mindscape or a landscape, such pictures are indelibly marked by the iconography of regionalism, or even by a kind of a supra- or hyper hermeticism that comes as much from Hill’s recent return to square shaped canvases as it does from her dedication to mapping a sense of passage through the denatured landscape.
Bio: Elana Melissa Hill holds an M.F.A. from Claremont (2011) and a B.A. from the University of Irvine (2007). She has recently shown in the "Emergent 12" at Object Gallery and "La Cosa Nostra" at Galerie Rheeway. Hill was the co-founder and director of Catalyst Gallery at UCI from 2005-2007 and is currently the program director of ReVISIONS of LA, the monthly drawing program at LACE (Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions). She lives and works in Los Angeles.
Through a subtle vocabulary of implacable aesthetic effects Simon Hughes has been examining Canadian themes, political myths and the natural phenomenology of his birthplace for more than a decade. While his production has often consisted of large scale watercolors, the practice of drawing and painting have also figured prominently in his approach to diagramming the social landscape of the great white north. Icy expanses, color streaked skys, native inhabitants and architectural models are all passed through a series of visual ciphers in Hughes work that are as charming as they are irreverent. Whether working to disarm our relation to indigenous politics or the presuppositions of modernism, Hughes's imagery suggests other possibilities than the traditional narratives proposed by the canon of American art history.
In fact, one could say that Hughes artistic practice is something like an imaginative psychogeography of urban tales, non-standard histories and alternative myths. Recently, his work has focused on rethinking the themes and discourses that adhere to American and Canadian modernism, although Hughes's treatment of these varied stratagems is subtly subversive, and sometimes, outright heretical. Hughes often restages the motifs of action painting in the slow and methodical medium of watercolor — reducing the iconic gestures of 'high art' to a pleasant, if not, diminutive size. If this weren’t already paradoxical enough, Hughes even invites the occasional naïve collaboration, further undermining any sense of the grandiose or the heroic. In so doing Hughes's pictures ask us not only to rethink the dominant dialogues of North American art, but they also serve as an example of dia-log-ic pictorialism that takes logs and lodges as key motifs in a new form of regionalism.
Yet what is often missed in these mixed cartographies is Hughes’s focus on the productive use of kitsch. His work unhinges the central themes of modernism not so much by their treatment or thematic double coatings as by the transmutation of pictorial motifs into another world — and even into the order of the commodity divine. Modernist cubicals for indigenous people, popular stickers placed inside works about medium specificity, and collaged psychoanalytic imperatives are all imposed on the frozen symbolism of the Canadian landscape. This enigmatic and minimal series of references often seems to congeal into a form of cartoonified colonialism — providing us with images about social appropriation and geopolitical expropriation that are still very accessible. Perhaps one could even see Hughes’s images of ‘the great white north’ as something of a metaphor for the great white washing of Northern American history — its peoples, its myths and even its varied modes of existence. In this regard, Hughes work carries a sympathetic tone toward the politics of indigenous peoples by making modernism into a children’s book of sorts, or a fairly tale gone awry. Undoubtedly, Hughes's oeuvre could even be seen as a running commentary of sorts on the conflicted status of intercultural aesthetics: European and American, American and Canadian, Canadian and indigenous, indigenous and commercial. Such a heady mix of themes requires some reflection, but in Hughes's work the hyperbolic mix of characters, motifs, and cultural thematics always proves to be as pleasurable as it is rewarding. That is perhaps the joy we find in entering a topsy-turvy of hypersurregionalism.