Post Road Magazine #25

Angels

Carl E. Hazlewood

Curled Lightcatcher I, 2012, Paper, Dimensions variable

1.

For a culturally complex "black" person from the Caribbean, there were, inevitably, demanding questions concerning painting's relevance as a strictly formal discipline. I began working seriously as a teenager in the late 1960s. In America, in the aftermath of the civil rights struggles, the influence of the Black Arts Movement—which stressed political and social engagement—was still prevalent. One mistrusted mainstream art, particularly the ideological "purity" or perhaps, neutrality, inherent in high abstraction. The various arguments interested me but I balked at any idea that would limit me to an art that functioned narrowly as a tool for social criticism or protest. Working as a curator and as someone interested in theoretical aspects of art, it seemed necessary to take all these polemical ideas into consideration. But since my return to focused artistic production after many years being a curator, writer, and critic, I am open to all possibilities—from painting to photography and multimedia installations. My interest lies in paring down complexities to essential practical ideas—particularly those basic ones concerning the visual and establishing an assertive abstract image.

2.

To make art, for me, is a basic urge. And after more than twenty years of supporting other artists, I came to a place where I needed to re-focus on my own work. I also needed to find a new way—a fresh direction. Finally, without a studio and desperate to get going again, I made myself a few simple rules. Use what I have where I can, in the space that is available to me. That space right now is my chaotic apartment and one living room wall that can function as support for this type of art making. Another of my self-made rules is to use the materials that are available to me. What I had lying around the most were various good quality papers. Should I draw or paint on them? No, I needed to do something that was a little more radical. I pinned a plain sheet of heavyweight paper to the wall and made myself yet another rule. . . an old one: keep it simple. And direct. Just do something: fold, cut, bend, pin. Thus my new constructions made mostly of paper, twine, and canvas, are assembled directly on the wall using only pushpins and map pins. All were made in the last two years and share the title "Angel." Occasionally other material such as wire, industrial plastic mesh, or tarpaper is used. Unframed, the bounding edges are unrestricted, left free to respond to the visual "pressures" of what happens within the piece. They remain discrete objects, but respond to the particular space in which they are made. I frankly look for a kind of buoyancy, tough beauty, and strong form that could sustain them for their evanescent life while up on the wall. Like those other angels, these forms appear and disappear rather quickly, for they are taken apart immediately after being exhibited and documented.

3.

I find it interesting and useful to reduce things to basics—essentials; doing so allows me to see more clearly. I also have a renewed appreciation for the complexity of formal effect (visual affect) that can result from this kind of simplification. Matisse is a great model, as is Picasso in his cardboard guitar phase. Calling these constructions "angels," rather than kites or some other designation, is mostly an acknowledgement that there is a general consensus by practically all people—regardless of religion—about what such a creature might be like. For me it's not about the particular belief system, as I could just as well have called them "butterflies" (that would be, perhaps, a bit too fey or limiting an image for my taste). What I desire is the suggestion of rightness, strength, or delicacy, and the notion communicated about a possible artistic beauty, rough or refined—controversial though the concept may be. Beauty for me is found in the search for that formal "rightness"—a "there-ness" that isn't necessarily perfection; perhaps it is simply the ongoing search for that quality. We understand that angels communicate in all sorts of subtle ways. . . I would be pleased to know that my structures, which are temporary, manage to communicate something enduring despite their brief lives on the wall, and that they've left a positive and useful residue as a presence within my photographs. . . as evidence that they were here for a while.



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