PRINT December 1977

David Hare’s “Cronus” Series

CRONUS MAD. DOG CRONUS. Cronus young, Cronus old. Cronus eating. Stages of growth, everyday actions, man transformed—David Hare uses the myth of Cronus to examine the twin parodies of “man”—love/hate, life/death. If he is man or beast, civilized or instinctual, Hare examines Cronus for the answer. Cronus, father of Zeus, eats the children he loves to avoid death by their hands, only to be slain by one who escapes.

The Greeks knew how to concoct myths, combining the psychological with the universal in such sure broad strokes that our civilized society spends more time interpreting them than creating its own. Hare’s series is an attempt to speak through myth, to translate word to picture to arrive at visual language. His paintings are essentially pictographs, hieroglyphs, so symbolic and literary in content that they must be read, not viewed. As personal interpretations they must be deciphered in order to be understood in terms of Hare’s stated intentions. But his attempt to reduce the major paradoxes of man’s existence to pictures has as many shortcomings as. triumphs. Attempting a kind of Zen shorthand for the parables of life, Hare infuses the work with dedication and passion, but omits the most dynamic element of man’s fate: irony.

Meaning to show fury and destruction, Hare draws pointed little teeth; scrambled genitals are metaphors for dual identities, disjointed faces with wild eyes imply bestiality or madness. This simplification narrows and limits his iconography rather than resulting in universal truths painted symbolically. Hare uses a collage technique in the paintings as if to collage layers of meaning. It is a particularly flat collage, and can only be detected upon careful scrutiny. Essentially, Hare is a surface painter, concentrating on the arrangement of stylized forms on the canvas with little or no depth allowed. Early labelled a Surrealist, he has continued working in a style reminiscent of Arp, Ernst, or Miró. Using globular floating bodies and strong abstract blocks of color in careful compositions, he presents his statements with a deft systematization, broken only by select expressions of emotion: anguished eyes, grasping claw-hands, occasional spatters of blood and gore.

In Cronus Mad and Young Monster Hare collages drawings onto painted canvas and adds small pieces of tape to hold them in place. Young Monster is one of Hare’s most open canvases; collaged sections push forward from slightly washed white background on which humanoid features are roughly drawn. Cronus Mad is actually a more unified image, though meant to show dissociation; tape holds the head in its place. Cronus Old is one of the rare occasions where the surface itself cracks—gouged lines rend through the top layer of paint; the form dissolves into a white background. There is one strong area of blood red behind the familiar beast-face. In these three technique almost describes content, and vice versa, befitting the intense symbolism of the series. They also lose some of the stilted “surreal” look, abandoning the geometric pastel backgrounds of Asleep in the Night Cave and the stereotyped bodies and Picassoesque faces of Cronus Hermaphrodite which are so reminiscent of Guernica.

Hare’s dual concern with literal meaning and disguised symbolism is apparent in Cronus Descending and Cronus Old #2. The former is a rectangular canvas, with a rectangular image of Cronus centered in that. An inverted cross shape serves as snout or phallus, bisecting both rectangles; a brown horizontal band (face or body) extends to either side, echoing the smaller cross. Three colors predominate, three shapes repeat. No haphazard scribbled lines form details, no collages extend the surface. The space is ambiguous, presenting itself as a flat division of the canvas, yet also representing three layers of depth: the space outside Cronus’s cave, the cave walls, Cronus suspended between outside and inside. Here successful impact is made through deliberate ambiguity and the obvious is contradicted.

Cronus Old #2 has a collaged arm which swoops around a loosely scrubbed canvas. Vaguely obscene, luridly colored shapes are the focus; red spatters the canvas, brusque pencil lines sketch around the cave opening. The images suggest the bloody retreat of the madman after battle (or meal). The techniques described apply to other canvases—the symbols used, to most. The story is certainly violent, repugnant. Didactically it describes a horrible moment, but the teaching makes no further implications. Neither a direct warning nor a prediction, it aptly describes an event and stops, leaving Hare’s mission unfulfilled.

The piece most horrifying and most embodying the plight of man is an almost comical “sculpture” that Hare admits to difficulty with. It is an attempt to combine sculpture and painting, and the risk taken pays off. Standing on awkward black steel legs, a steel rectangle forms the “frame.” The front view offers a cave, made of real sand. A Technicolor sky shows through the opening, the familiar black hands claw upward in silhouette. The sculpture is totally graceless, the colors garish, the grasping arms ludicrous rather than threatening. Around the back (for this is essentially a two-dimensional canvas in the round) two bright little eyes peer out of blackness over an astonished mouth. A vaudeville image, the face seems bewildered, though probably insane. This is Cronus’ most human moment: the monster who ravages decent society, commits brutal, unspeakable crimes, yet discovered and exposed is a pathetic creature. Not the romantic or mysterious villain, not the defiant anti-hero, but a pitiable creature belonging to man’s family by heredity yet universally disclaimed.

Hare has attempted a monumental task, speaking of his work in terms of only the most ambitious themes, aiming at a distillation of the stuff that all culture is made of into an easily handled communicated system. Though 10 years is a substantial part of one’s career, it is a short time to accomplish such amazingly complicated simplifying, and there is more refining left to be done.