Art » Art Feature

Textbook Cases

Work by Roy Lichtenstein and Leslie Hewitt.



In his half-century of creative output, Roy Lichtenstein produced much more than the large-scale, comic-book inspired, eye-popping paintings that brought him international fame in the 1960s. The nearly 70 drawings and collages that make up the Dixon Gallery & Gardens' exhibition "Lichtenstein in Process" include ethereal Chinese landscapes, fluid abstracts, and pop-art homages.

In Collage for Art Critic, Lichtenstein's witty nod to criticism as well as cubism, the critic stands with her nose pressed against a painting and studies it from every angle. The features of her face fracture into a Picasso-esque portrait in which her open mouth moves to the side of her face, her left eye turns sideways, and her other eye has moved to her forehead and pierces the frame of the painting into which she peers.

Thousands of faint, nearly colorless Benday dots in Collage for Landscape with Scholar's Rock are transformed into veils of mist and banks of clouds that appear to move, dissolve, and reappear across a 7-foot-wide panorama that fills our field of vision. Stand in front of Scholar's Rock and, like the art critic, you may feel the planes of the earth shift and boundaries blur as you are encompassed by the most monumental (and most effervescent) collage in the show.

In another particularly powerful work, Collage for the Sower, Lichtenstein pays homage to Vincent van Gogh's 1888 painting which, in turn, paid homage to Millet's 1850 masterwork. Van Gogh's brushstrokes make his entire painting — sky and earth as well as the figure striding across the landscape — come alive with energy. In Lichtenstein's work, the earth roils, seeds crack open, yellow melons swirl across the top of the work, and spring-green sap oozes beyond the thick, quickly gestured outlines of the figure. Lichtenstein captures the sweep of the sower's arm, the social unrest rumbling toward revolution as peasants starve, and the boundless energy of nature as powerfully as van Gogh's and Millet's more realistic depictions.

Through January 17th   For each of the 10 photo composites that make up Clough-Hanson's current exhibition, "Riffs on Real Time," Leslie Hewitt places a snapshot — often faded and decades-old — on top of a page torn from a textbook or on the cover of the book itself. Hewitt then photographs the two items on the wooden floor of her studio. What perhaps is most remarkable about this understated show is Hewitt's ability to evoke the whole fabric of life with 10 artworks constructed from the simplest materials.

An out-of-focus snapshot of a shrub (so severely cropped it looks more like a hat box than a plant) lies on top of bright-red book in Riff 4. Riff 5 is the textbook image of row after row of large, immaculately kept homes with perfectly manicured lawns. An overexposed snapshot, laid on top of this image, looks like the living room of one of the homes where family members watch television.

Hewitt mounts her most poignant and unsettling works in a small room, a sort of inner sanctum, inside Clough-Hanson. The faded photo of a young man in a cap and gown in Riff 2 is backdropped by another textbook image of a city, but here, instead of suburban sprawl, homes and businesses are blown apart and engulfed in flames. A man in a suit in Riff 10 carries a briefcase and strides up the steps of a beautiful concrete plaza of some large metropolis. In one of the show's most surreal touches, the man's upper body is superimposed with a snapshot of arid, undeveloped earth.

The images in Hewitt's inner sanctum show us a world in flux. Sometimes the change is slow but inexorable, like erosion. Sometimes change is sudden and violent like the race riots depicted in Riff 2. In an interview mounted on one of the gallery walls, Hewitt explains that the work for this show was developed, in part, to help her understand how the civil rights struggles of the 1960s inform her current view of reality.

How apropos that Hewitt's "Riffs on Real Time" are backdropped by the scarred, stained, rich-hued, and deeply grained heart pine floor of her studio. This New York-based artist takes us beyond the pruned and the concretized into a richer, more textured space where we are encouraged to explore texts we never quite found the time to read, to look through family photos and replay memories, to enlarge our sense of self and the world.

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