Saturday, August 28, 2010

The labyrinth, revisited: Cherie Hacker’s abstract art

Occasionally an artist’s work sends the viewer into a rather delicious form of confusion. This confusion belongs not to the discomfiture of actually feeling confused, but rather to the curiosity and questioning born of this rarified state of mind.

A confession: I am predisposed to appreciate the terms of abstract painting. I consider abstraction itself (dare I say, in the abstract) to be a redemptive, formal answer to the explosive consciousness particular to our time. Abstract work like Cherie Hacker’s belongs within the central rift that began long ago (in what seems more remote a time than it actually is), in the Modernist era. Serious abstract work continues to explore the way we all think and see the world these days. Ms. Hacker’s work belongs to this category, I think, as part of this ongoing exploration in paint.

The layered nature of consciousness has been admirably articulated within the discipline of psychology. Meanwhile, the vast morphology of the mind itself continues to emerge with granular, non-verbal acuity in art (as painting continues to surface the unconscious, bringing its expression into focus).

I acknowledge that we live in a world flooded with messages of all kinds—many of these messages arriving through an onslaught of words. Such ideas or sets of ideas filter through our perception, compounding in a way that leaves us little room for whatever else might occur in the absence of such insistent clutter. We need such measures, (or perhaps countermeasures), to articulate this stream into a form that allows us some collective, contemporary take on what it means to be alive.

Ms. Hacker’s work seems to belong to such approaches. The aesthetic argument I perceive runs roughly as follows. We can choose to unify our fragmented perceptions into perception; into a composition; a whole of many parts; a waking dream-state married by necessity to Gestalt psychology precepts.

Cherie Hacker’s abstract paintings juxtapose imagery and tap into the unconscious mind. They do so elegantly, confidently, and with messages implied.

Consider the work “Over," (above title).

This painting conjures multiple readings that don’t quite pan out into any confident absolution (that is, of course, beside the point. We aren’t there to “get it” but rather to explore the terms of what we see before us). Is this painting a top-down map, a city seen from above, or some fetish of geographic logic? Not quite. However, much like a map, the composition works according to an internal logic where its tropes may be tossed like dice (or a salad) within a fixed space; conforming overall into a cohesive whole. Okay, there is no map. One is lost and directions are futile. So what does such a composition represent? It doesn’t represent anything (silly)—that is a job better left to the mimetic fidelity of a camera or the definition found in figurative work (where you have a figure, faces being so central to our reading of ourselves).

Instead these abstracts seem not to capture exactly into a narrative elaboration, but rather to collect and juxtapose as an end; to render an inclusive non-allegorical construct that will not easily unveil its mysteries to flat, referential labeling.

You may look at this work for a long time, only to find the eye drawn to the surface-tension of the imagery. It is almost as if Hacker is tired of (bored with?) “interpretation.” Maybe she would rather leave us to the Susan Rothenberg imperative (I’m assuming here) which solicits the viewer’s focus on the picture plane. We seem to be asked—again, by Rothenberg—to let painting be party to a rare cohesion that may be found only and precisely in paint.

Oy, vey.

And yet, if penguins created imagery of some kind, those who studied penguins would find that such images speak universally of the “penguin mind.” It is with this anthropocentric assumption that I move forward, considering painting of any era—directly or indirectly—a manifestation (or depiction) of human consciousness.

Are not all of us composed of light and dark, filled with agendas that gain or lose shape, wandering around without clear direction and focus? In rare moments of uncanny poise, we make sense to ourselves. The rest of the time, we can only marvel at what unseen forces engineer our decisions.

(Not so incidentally, all of these reflections arise from contemplation of abstract art such as Hacker’s work above. Without them, I might never happen upon such ideas. The imperative to explore at this level is reason enough to value such work, wherever it might be found).


In what arena of experience—beyond the contemplation of art—do we become aware of the piecework nature of our minds? What tools have we evolved for us to heal our wounds; to move into a better understanding of who we are (and where we are going)?

Hiking, poetry, music, books in general, conversations with friends. . .these are some of the tools I have found to dig into the larger conundrums of existence. Without the work of abstract painters like Cherie Hacker, however, we would all find it far more difficult to pull the pieces of contemporary consciousness together.

For the record, Cherie Hacker is engaged in other work that I do not relate to nor fully understand. That is fine by me. I think most artists do not produce work to be liked or disliked (beside the point) but instead to further the general conversation. The viewers’ affection for a work may be a path toward engagement, but is rather trivial beyond that. Let us be engaged by artwork, not hustled. Check out Cherie Hacker’s work. I trust you will find it engaging.

For more information on Cherie Hacker and her work, please visit: