Religion Professor Hun Lye and Davidson student Audrey Gyurgyik guide private viewing rooms at the opening of Hagit Barkai’s exhibit in the Van Every Gallery, “It looks Something Like This.” The oil paintings will be on display until Dec. 7. (Courtesy of Hagit Barkai)
Walking into the Van Every Gallery at Davidson College, will take viewers out of their comfort zones. The faces looking back at them from massive canvasses will not soothe them. This art is not reassuring or peaceful. It will make viewers uncomfortable and maybe a bit nervous.
And if the artist is successful, it will make them think.
Across the hall in the Smith Gallery, easier viewing of a series of prints might be a safe-haven from the jarring faces and starkness in oil.
Barkai explores personhood through oil
Davidson College Assistant Professor of Art Hagit Barkai’s exhibit in the Van Every Gallery, “It Looks Something Like This,” features oil paintings of human subjects. Many are naked, posed in pained, forced states.
“In-Difference: real, not real, real,” depicts two naked subjects. They might be a man and a woman, or some combination. They are huddled, curled into the smallest versions of themselves. They are in a corner, maybe of a closet, maybe of a massive room filled with torturous dangers. Their faces are tired, resigned and scared. But they could be looks of defiance. Barkai’s ambiguity forces the viewer to think and interpret her paintings.
The crisp lines of these subjects’ legs in the forefront get sketchier, fading into impressionistic blurs.
Blurred features are a common thread throughout “It Looks Something Like This.” In “Bedside: Blindfold 2,” a man kneels, his face is thick brushstrokes flying away from his head, oil vomit in place of features.
“I almost never decide to blur parts of the painting in advance,” Barkai said. “Most times I actually have the goal to say everything in a painting. All these blurs and erasing are things that happened in the process of painting and I felt that it is done, that if I say more the feeling will be lost.”
The theme of “It Looks Something Like This,” is “visual representation and truth, the failure in explaining something, the difficulty in telling an intelligible story while telling the truth,” Barkai said.
For the exhibit opening, on Nov. 3, Barkai orchestrated intimacy between viewers and paintings. Davidson student Audrey Gyurgyik and Religion Professor Hun Lye acted as stewards for private viewing rooms. In one room, two canvasses faced each other with a chair in the center. Gyurgyik showed one painting after another to one viewer in the chair.
Lye brought a ticking timer into another room, with one viewer at a time, a couch, a large painting and a wall-length mirror. The viewer sat facing the mirror, with the painting behind him, allowing him to watch himself observe the painting of a naked, graying man staring back.
“I wanted to do something with intimacy and comfort, and I liked the idea of privacy in the middle of a reception,” Barkai said.
Brian Garner shows collaborative art
If the anxiety, confusion and intense emotions on the faces of Barkai’s paintings become too much, viewers can find some refuge across the hall in the Smith Gallery.
Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Brian Garner operates the Litho Shop in Baltimore, Md. He teaches three courses at Davidson and works long weekends in Baltimore once a month.
Artists come to Garner’s shop to “investigate their conceptual subjects while provided the technical support necessary to translate their visual language into original prints and multiples,” according to its website.
“Brain Garner: Collaborations from the Litho Shop,” features pieces that Garner has worked on with a wide range of artists in a variety of print media. Works on display include lithography, relief, intaglio (etching) and screen-printing.
“The process starts by meeting with an artist and finding out their needs as far as the medium,” Garner said.
Garner works with artists to find the right medium for them and then introduces them to the materials.
In the lithograph medium, for example, artists can draw with crayons or pencils, or use photographs and digital transfers. It leaves a lot up to the artists.
“They bring their own curiosities and intuitive relationships that they make with the materials,” Garner said. “No artist really approaches making prints the same way as another. They all have their own answers to questions they ask themselves when they come to work in my shop.”
Bill Flick’s “Devil #1” and “Pig Bat” immediately grab the eye. The bold black and white lines form unforgettable eyes and evil grins. But lacking humanity, they remain separate from the viewer.
If Barkai’s exhibit aims to rattle viewers and make them think, this exhibit primarily entertains, staying on a noninvasive, pop culture plane.
Ingrid Burrington steps out of the frame with “Endless Tomorrows.” A roll of paper, salvaged from a Crayola crayon label-printing factory, stretches from floor to ceiling, repeating “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and…” The plaque explains that this piece represents the impossibility of a moment or memory remaining a fixed, unchangeable point. Tomorrow will not be tomorrow for long.
Liliana Porter began with a photograph of a Pinocchio-like figurine to create “For You.”
“On top of the photographic element of the print, we used a technique called drypoint, a form of etching,” Garner said. “The drypoint image was drawn directly on a plate. Bringing the artist’s hand into the imagery created a sense of intimacy. … She has the capability to take objects that have no soul or life to them and puts them in situations where we can relate to them on an emotional level.”
The exhibits will hang until Dec. 7. The galleries are open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from noon until 4 p.m.