by Stephen Glueckert, MAM Curator of Exhibitions
The Missoula Art Museum is proud to present Kristi Hager: Birdbath to celebrate the work of this very accomplished artist. Two distinct bodies of work are included in this exhibition. One is a portfolio of ten etchings based on Hager's study of birdbaths. The second is a selection of gouache paintings based on the observation of moving water.
Both series contain Hager's characteristic and mature observation of motion and change. Both include similar subject matter (water and containers for water) and are created through confident draftsmanship, rooted in the modernist's obsession with the observation of time and change. The compositions of the birdbath etchings and the moving water paintings are consistent, and both series incorporate the techniques of isolating an object or phenomena and the plein-air experience. There are also differences in Kristi's approach to the two bodies of work and the contrasts work to create a visual tension in the exhibition. The etchings of solid objects are colorless, but employ a full range of values. The abstracted paintings of intangible motion are colorful, but built from just two or three intense, undiluted colors.
Two historical concepts help inform this work. First is the history of the influence of the camera on artists and the art world. After the introduction of the camera, artists began to move away from portraiture and increasingly explored other avenues of image making besides what was essentially an extension of record keeping and narrative storytelling. The modernist's attitudes toward time, change and light has impacted our artistic heritage to this day. (We are reminded of Cézanne's studies of Mont Sainte-Victoire, Monet's images of Rouen cathedral, Jennifer Bartlett's In the Garden swimming pool series.) Overall, we sense that the artist is really looking, studying and observing, and celebrates the religion of our own privacy. In Hager's birdbaths, she goes to the same place over and over again in a ritual of looking.
The second aspect is the modernist's curious fascination of eastern mysticism. Many artists have encouraged us not to think of our activities in a linear sense but as a cyclical experience, a process of revisiting our actions and thoughts and repeating art rituals like a precise mantra of creative breathing. That the process urges us to not just look and see but to go beyond and contemplate a deeper experience of seeing, and more importantly, our experience of creating and capturing the present moment. In Hager's water paintings she arrests that complex moment in what feels like a simple exercise.
While Hager's paintings are immediately gratifying, their expression runs deeper. It is clear that contemporary artists have neither abandoned nor exhausted their exploration and fascination with the groundwork lain by previous generations of artists. The intermixing of eastern and western philosophies, attitudes toward time and the study of nature reveals more spiritual attitudes. Time may be relative but it is also universal and timeless. Hager reminds us that contemporary artists will continue to explore in unique ways these larger universal issues. Both of these series are just two such avenues of individual exploration.
What is it that artists are saying to us by revisiting these issues? The study of nature and movement is not exhausted, the study of time is timeless and the study of nature is spiritual. Hager also references a book-like quality when describing these paintings. Framing her work vertically encourages a more intimate reading of the paintings, a more private experience for the viewers, much like reading a book. However, this experience although intimate is shared with a more public audience.
In our television and movie-influenced society, what some have described as "the fast food age," it is an anomaly for a still image to endure on the screen or television for more than 2.5 seconds. The free market has thrust this upon us through advertising, and a machine gun popular culture conditions us to accept a level of media concentration that sells, sells, sells. Although there is immediacy about Hager's paintings, there is also a quietude whispering to us of the human ability to slow down, to look, to see, to appreciate and to share.
Rivers and Creeks
by Kristi Hager
Free moving water is so amorphous, elusive and important. Water is the Earth's life-blood. How to translate that into a painting? Strategically, I reject the luminous, reflective plays of light of impressionism and hyperrealism, as well as the bigness and explosive brushwork of expressionism. Instead, I am inspired by the rendering of water in Renaissance and Baroque tapestries, the Hall of Maps in the Vatican Museum and Japanese woodcuts and tattoos. Each has a particular stylization of patterns and rhythms that speak to something beyond the optical effects of water. They speak to water's primacy, power and eternity. These are high standards to aspire to for these little gouache paintings. On the riverbank, I keep it simple. I look for linear patterns. I aim to make each brushstroke energetic, deliberate but un-premeditated. The colors are tasty, my response to the sensuality of water. I complete each painting on location. As always, the trick is to know when to stop.
by Kristi Hager
When I arrived in San Antonio in August of 1989 to teach for one semester at UTSA, the heat overwhelmed me. The birdbath in the backyard became my visual oasis and I drew it every day for a month. By drawing the same birdbath daily, I internalized it. Once the image was well rooted through earnest renderings, the variations came out spontaneously. The Birdbath became a font, both literally and figuratively. I put the drawings away until spring when I picked ten that I liked well enough to work up into etchings. Each etching concentrated whatever was going on in the drawing. The image became a sanctuary for me. And for that month, it served as my diary.
The suite is inspired by my friend and painting mentor, Gordon Cook, who taught me the value of such a discipline.