Arizona Daily Wildcat April 2, 1998
Figuring it out
Maybe I'm slitting my own throat as an artist, or maybe I'm just trying to shock, but I've always tended to think that the depiction of the figure in art is, at the very least, a tricky cliché, and at most, a debilitating crutch. However, I was forced to re-examine my perception after perusing three, yes three, exhibits on campus that are exclusively or largely made up of student work: the Annual Juried Student Art Exhibit on the third floor of the Memorial Student Union, the "Retro" exhibit in the Lionel Rombach Gallery and "Abject Lands, Personal Horizons," on display at the Joseph Gross Gallery.
I first noticed the emphasis on the figure at the Annual Juried Student Art Exhibit, where more than half of the prints included the figure. Jacinda Russels' two photographs, entitled "Aunt Eleanor," display the artist's search to inflect meaning into a picture of a middle aged woman in a polyester suit with nervously cupped hands by projecting the image onto a modeled surface.
Likewise, Rosanna Salonia's "John I," investigates the process of portraying the figure with the seldom practiced technique of a monotype body print. This technique involves, I suspect, the lathering of oneself with paint, laying one's body on top of a big piece of paper, and then running the two through a heavy press. (Well, the last part may not be entirely accurate, but no detail is lost; the human body is translated into an ambiguous montage of shape and texture.)
The "Retro" exhibit, subtitled "Future of the Future," compiles the work of numerous visual communications majors, resulting in a room filled with way-too-hip product packages and a host of potential rave flier art. If you look closely, here too the human figure makes a cameo. Tim D'Avis and Ward Andrews' submission is a beautiful investigation of the figurative theme in light of the growing alienation of humans in the technological world. Three posters, of an android, a human, and a prosthetic arm are explained respectively by the phrases "You are a machine," "You are networked" and "You are an upgrade." G.B. Tran's startled portrait, executed as if by piecing together numbered tiles, makes a similar statement about the figure in an environment of increasing fragmentation or alienation.
A collaborative movement with two universities in Australia, "Abject Lands, Personal Horizons" includes several works, among many figurative studies, which deal with the fleeting nature, or implication, of the figure in art. Maria Schutt's "Prayer for my Father" includes printed pictures on homemade paper, upon which are stitched small phrases. The pictures, which sublimate images of men (playing sports, conversing) with hand diagrams, speak to the notion of ritual or exercise, mimicking her ritualistic production of the images. Kate Hoover's "Mnemosyne" implies the figure as a blur, offering the viewer only a hint of violent motion, placed upon the serene image of a bed.
While it still seems that the figure is tricky to negotiate in art, by viewing such a wide variety of interpretations of this theme it is difficult to see it any longer as a crutch, but rather another tool for expression.