Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
A remembrance of things past, whether conscious or not, seems to hover in the work of both Sara Haley and Linda Huang, whose exhibits are opening today in the List Gallery. Each offers an opportunity to connect and respond to art; Haley examines memory, antiquity, and experience, while Huang uses babies to find beauty in the bizarre.
Sara Haley’s work on exhibit includes sculptural figures and charcoal drawing. Her subjects include family, friends, “famous Swatties,” and self-portraits. Haley explained, “I work mostly with memory and fragments.” In addition, Haley works from life (when a model is available), studio study, and photographs. She uses rough-surfaces to evoke “The dust that settles on your memories… Surface treatments look like something from the past, they have a ghost-like quality,” she said.
Among the work exhibited is a triptych of sculptural portraits that Haley began over the summer with a Lang Summer Humanities Grant. Through a balance of refined and obscured detail, Haley creates an effect of familiarity and recollection. Her displays reflect an interest in how archaeological work is displayed in museums and what Haley describes as “the connection between collective cultural memory and a personal memory.” A series of fragmented hands and arms hearken to this idea, lined up like specimens in an exhibit while simultaneously reminding the viewer of the intimacy of the body.
Haley has also included large scale charcoal portraits. One, Haley laughingly acknowledges, suggests an unfortunate high school dance. A woman sits in an absurd-looking dress, looking miserable. The image, Haley suggests, can be seen as relating to “American female memory.” At the same time the dress itself is a personal touch for Haley, having been a part of her Halloween costume.
Haley became interested in art in high school. “I started in high school with pottery. I found my love for clay, surfaces, ‘the vessel,’ she said. Haley intends to continue her studies at a post-baccalaureate program where she will expand her portfolio. Among her influences are Doug Jeck, whose antique-fragmented look she admires, Rodin (“though he’s a little masculine and emotive for me…”), pointillist George-Pierre Seurat, the tonal paintings of Andrew Wyeth, and Antonio Lopez Garcia, of whom Haley observes “He’s my dream! He’s done everything.”
When I asked how Linda Huang developed the theme for her exhibit, made up of oil paintings of babies, Huang responded, “It came out of desperation. The week before senior year started I was imagining the List Gallery and thinking, ‘What would look really impressive?’” Huang was inspired by Marlene Dumas’ “gigantic, grotesque, over-size babies,” and Jenny Saville’s “almost violent” technique. “It’s less about the concept of babies,” Huang stressed. “I want to make the viewer look at something in a new way. [It’s] very much about aesthetic intuition, a visceral reaction.”
Huang, who worked primarily from black and white photographs, selected her subjects based on some aspect that was striking to her on an “emotional, formal, or compositional” level. Huang’s use of color is highly intuitive, “I really like color, I can’t live without it,” and among the greatest challenges of the series was using color to establish “a dialogue between the foreground and the background.”
Huang noted that as a psychology minor, her work reflects an interest in the emotional potential of subjects. Similarly, she is also intrigued by the subconscious aspects of her work, commenting on the startling discoveries she made after the fact, connecting this work to a past painting she had made in high school of a fetus and listening to “My Bloody Valentine” while working in the studio, a group that some critics have described as “a return to the womb.”
Her pieces include the restful ‘Buddha’ and ‘Elephant Skin’, which seem to belie their infancy by virtue of the wrinkles and lines of their serious forms. There is an electric charge to the coloring of “Ganguro,” depicting a furious, purpled baby with clenched fists and fierce eyes. The name comes from a fashion trend in Japan in the 1990s in which high school girls tanned their skin, bleached their hair, and wore very heavy makeup.
Several of Huang’s art pieces respond to specific art pieces and forms. One of the earliest pieces in the exhibit, “Ecstasy and Agony,” hearkens back to the sculptural depictions of St. Teresa of Avila. Another painting, based on the photograph of a friend’s nephew, has a curiously Byzantine effect as the yellow-hue of the background create ripples of gold behind the startled-eyed and richly textured baby.
Huang, who intends to take graphic design courses this summer and pursue work related to visual culture, desires to “find beauty in things people normally wouldn’t find beauty in,” she said. She points out the merits of her medium, oil paint, by observing that it allows for “A lot of experimentation… a lot of trial and error.” Huang also credits her friends in her development as an artist. “It’s really important to have people surrounding you who are not that self-conscious, [who are] free.”
“Art should be one of two things,” asserts Huang. “An interesting subject matter or a conventional subject painted in an interesting way.”
Both Huang and Haley have provided examples of this in their respective work. The exhibit’s reception begins today at 4 pm and gallery hours are Saturday-Monday, 12-5 pm.