These are the visions
from a summer of storms
abundance of rain
fallen trees
and laying down flowers

from mornings of thunder
afternoon winds
and the mockingbird
out the window
carried off by the hawk

these are the visions
from a summer of storms
these musings of horses
of wishing to fly

from the wind in the sheets
caught up by the birds
small beasts in teh night
and salt in the sky

these are the visions
from a summer of storms
the teasing of lightning
the promise of thunder
and the secrets of children
crowding my dreams

Maggie Hasbrouck: Small Memories , Quiet Dreams

by Peter Frank

No doubt but that the crux of Maggie Hasbrouck’s art resides in the image. Not in the subject, not in the picture, and certainly not in the form, but in the image – the apparition of recognizable things in contexts that divorce them from extrinsic “meaning.” No landscape, interior, or other narrative embellishment contains the figures and objects maintaining at the core of Hasbrouck’s painting/photographs. (The artworks are sourced in photographs, but are scaled and textured as paintings.) The girls and boys and animals, the devices and furnishings hovering in what seems to be an old-master gloom, seem whole light years and mindsets removed from environments or backgrounds that would force us to read them a particular way. Indeed, the luminous, even immanent murk enveloping these beings so unmoors them from conventional pictoriality as to permit each of us a grand, even vertigo-inducing breadth of interpretation. Here, viewers are not simply invited to “know” the work according to their own experiences, but have responsibility for knowing the work fairly foisted on them.

Hasbrouck sets in motion a chain reaction of subjective response. She chooses the protagonists, and disposes them in each work, according to what must be arbitrary decisions – decisions informed by a clearly coherent personal symbology, but designed, if anything, to protect that symbology from quick decipherment. The recurrence of particular things – birdcages, for example, wielded by a number of the human figures in the most recent works – prompts one’s attention: they are clues to a meaning, to a narrative thread, at the very least to a system of motifs, and motives, that might contain Hasbrouck’s message. But the message, finally, is not borne by these props, or even by the gestures of the people wielding them; indeed, it is not conveyed even by more persistent factors, such as the youth of those people (few, if any, have reached puberty). Hasbrouck’s message, however much it may be informed by such factors – they are not negligible, and clearly they are not just formal conceits – concerns the condition(s) of human perception, of memory and imagination and the elaborate way the mind both generates and comprehends images.

Although materially based in photography, the works do not relate to each other as if, say, adjacent in a scrapbook. They elide the narrative conventions of both “high” photography (e.g. the monographic sequences that brought photographers such as Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander to prominence) and “low” (the more and more ubiquitous fotonovela). Still, their similarly ordered contents and compositions insist on a linkage, one that seems to take us deeper than the formal continuity of a “body of work.” These panels seem to want to convey a story, but their drama is buried behind the images, as if contained in the backlighting. As in the theater of Robert Wilson, the tableau rather than the scene is the unit of information here; we come away from these stark, incandescent apparitions as if they are the remains, the souvenirs, of dreams.

Perhaps we can say that Hasbrouck has taken the elements of an odd novel and made poems out of them. Events do not happen; they are not happening; they have not happened. Events simply exist, as detached from the flow of time, as ever-present as matter. We can project teleologies on these tableaux, much as we look at snapshots and try to imagine the things the people in the shots did before and after. But, having set in motion our process of close reading, Hasbrouck’s images resist being read closely. They stand entirely out of time; they are not even in the present. Rather, they occupy a plane of perceived time that curves around and through ours, sometimes parallel, sometimes perpendicular, sometimes diagonal, sometimes not at all straight. This fluid plane is the dimension of dream.

 Not dreams, dream – a hypnagogic state of cognition that denies the tyranny of time by denying time itself. While some sort of causal relationship suggests itself constantly in the interaction between child and prop, the relationship does not seem occasioned by any logical sequence of events. However vivid the boy’s or girl’s presence may be, however palpable the stool or hat or bird may seem, their suspension in a realm as bottomless and depthless as outer space itself suppresses their narrative coherency, not to mention their physical location. They are ghosts of themselves, haunting an eternal now.

 Of course, where children appear, the psychological dimension inevitably foregrounds itself. The picture of a child can never stand apart from its ramifications. However fraught with ancient cultural baggage or even the burdens of the collective unconscious, a man-made object can remain an object, an animal can remain an animal, a plant a plant. (Hasbrouck as much as insists on this with her vast renditions of single flowers set adrift in her characteristic dark aether; no matter how they float and glow, these large blooms resist our psychological projections.) But, as every one of us has been a child – and every one of us has been shaped crucially by our childhood – the presence of children invariably inspires strong sensations, irresistible associations. Hasbrouck’s underage cohort does not serve to “put you in the picture” so much as to put the picture in you, to narrow (if not collapse) the emotional distance between you and the moment you see.

Is that manipulation on Hasbrouck’s part? Not at all – or perhaps we should say, of course, art that moves us manipulates us. But Hasbrouck does not put children in her pictures simply in order to make them more effective (much less more sentimental). Rather, she conceives the pictures around these children. They are the pictures’ raison d’être, their focal point, the nucleus of whatever they are saying and/or getting us to say to ourselves. If they are about memory, they are about childhood memory – which is essentially the same thing: the most important thing we learn as kids is how to remember (or at least that we live – and succeed and fail – through recollection). These tableaux are manifestations of remembrance – less of specific things remembered than of the mechanism(s) of memory. Sometimes they even seem like mnemonic devices, rebuses designed to help us recall specifics. But, however much nature may abhor a vacuum, Hasbrouck relishes it, and in that generous space she allows the specifics to dissipate off the figure or the furniture into the inexactitude of the surrounding gloom.

Good pictures, like good stories, tell you a good deal about their authors. Really good works of art, however, tell you a good deal more about their viewers, beginning (or is it ending?) with you. Maggie Hasbrouck’s recent paintings are nothing if not windows on the soul. But is it her soul you’re gazing into? That is, is it only her soul?




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