Chicago

Eleanor Dube, Christine Ramberg, Roger Brown and Phil Hanson

Hyde Park Art Center

The Hyde Park Art Center continues to exhibit work by outstanding local artists, more often than not presenting them in their first major showing. In this context was the “False Image” show in November which included Eleanor Dube, Christine Ramberg, Roger Brown and Phil Hanson. The name under which the group exhibited came close to reflecting the underlying theme of their highly subjective, introspective and often subtle and understated works. Most of the paintings were less than one foot in height or width, and there were over 80 pieces by the four artists.

The idea of the movie house, or perhaps the mystique of the movie house dating back to the 1930s, becomes the subjective framework for Roger Brown’s paintings which carry titles such as Palace, Tivoli, Century, etc. The small size of each painting, their spare stylization, defines the setting and sets limits of simplicity (rather than the opulent “baroque” style of Balaban and Katz theaters). The balcony and the loge, the lights, the curtain and silhouettes of the audience are used to enframe the event which is the momentary image on the screen. These images are sometimes suggestive or in other instances enigmatic, invariably cryptic; the stylization of the synthetic, exotic half-dreamed event invites a detached voyeurism. He has used restraint and simplicity of drawing; he also employs an unobtrusive color which at times is almost powdery and bland, and we become members of the audience, the silhouetted heads watching the event on the screen. His paintings imply that the watcher, too, may be watched and although voyeurism seems to be implicit the remoteness and detachment in his work are such that the term indicates only partially what is there.

In Phil Hanson’s paintings the simplicity of style (drawing and application of paint and the low-keyed color) is in marked contrast to the subtlety and sophistication of the ideas. The ubiquitous comic strip is an influence (the folklike and often elliptical drawing) and here the small, squarish sizes of his paintings suggest the individual frames of the strip. To reveal or to obscure is the equivocal position of these works. In paintings such as Revealing Shadow or Individual Obscured, shadow-illusion transference becomes the central theme. For example the mirror on a stand that hides the face that casts the shadow which in turn falls coincidentally across a window illustrates the elements in the chain of coincidence and juxtaposition that challenge the limits of accepted reality. Others parody the viewer-reality and the image-illusion. Kodak Lady snaps our picture while hiding her own face. (In fact if there is one common characteristic shared by these artists it is the hiding of the face or at least features such as the eyes in their work.)

In Christine Ramberg’s paintings the head is turned or covered: hair and the act of dressing it assume an almost fetishistic importance. The feeling that we are present at some ritual is evoked—and evoke is especially descriptive here. For example, these were small paintings, about 8 inches by 8 inches, and their frames suggested old-fashioned hand mirrors, the paintings being the reflection therein (actual mirrors were mounted on the backs of two of them). All surrounding details were eliminated and their enamel-like surfaces allowed for an intricate pattern. Their obsessiveness and our own involvement (again the curious emphasis on the viewer), make of them secretive, oblique expressions.

The fourth artist in the show, Eleanor Dube, was involved (in her drawings and also in the cut-out plexiglass paintings) more with form for its own sake than with allusions to the psychological-esthetic possibilities that gave dramatic power to the work of the other artists. Her abstraction contained elements of Cubism, condensed and telescoped, not toward simplicity but toward a greater degree of complexity which at times was burdensome and confusing.

Whitney Halstead