Critics’ Picks

Maggie Hills, Disturb the Comfortable/Comfort the Disturbed, 2008, oil on canvas, 48 x 60".

Maggie Hills, Disturb the Comfortable/Comfort the Disturbed, 2008, oil on canvas, 48 x 60".


Maggie Hills

Optical Project
1125 E 11th St.
October 3–November 3, 2008

In painting, juxtaposing geometric forms with organically structured systems typically sets up incongruent pictorial relationships that evoke theories of representational critique and other endgame strategies. Yet in “BLUNDERLAND”—an exhibition of new works by British painter Maggie Hills—this diametric opposition becomes an unexpected emotional quagmire. Her lush landscapes, inhabited by singular modernist buildings or architectonic sculptures, elicit empathy, passion, and sentimentality. These high-pitched emotions resonate neither from her sketchy atmospheric landscapes nor from the geometric figures held within; instead they spring from modern man’s Sisyphean attempt to bridge nonrelative forms and the ideas they represent. The largest of the seven paintings in the exhibition, Disturb the Comfortable/Comfort the Disturbed (all works 2008), is an abundant landscape vignetted with flowering rosebushes. The middle ground depicts a pond reflecting a clear cerulean sky, while foothills mark the horizon. Breaking up this Elysian vista, Hills inserts vertical and converging lines along the edge of the pond, prompting the contours of a Mies van der Rohe–like glass box. Untitled depicts a stark, primarily white Bauhaus-style building articulated with planes of yellow, green, black, and red. Here Hills nestles a modernist signifier in a landscape full of old pine trees, wrought with rapid, multidirectional brushwork. The picture’s salmon-pink sky contrasts the primary colors composing the architectural box as insistently as the flux of the landscape resists the inert edifice. These two paintings also each sport a horizontal band at the top and bottom of the picture plane, suggesting photographic cropping and Greenbergian flatness—yet more distressing disparity.