Philadelphia

Brower Hatcher

Cava Gallery

Brower Hatcher's formally complex works are also allegories of time and the imagination. They are fantasy structures, the spaces of and for dreams, in which evocations and images of past, present, and future are conjoined in order to “invite reflection on what we have been, what we are, and what we may become”—Hatcher's description of the response he hopes his works will produce. This exhibition featured a selection of large and small sculptures, drawings, and proposals for public art, including a maquette for a project in Philadelphia and a drawing for a permanent piece commissioned by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Hatcher articulates the theme of temporal concurrence in these sculptures from the bottom up. Fragmentary, hollow ceramic or metal bases signify the past, either primitive or classically antique, in the shape of human heads, animals, or more amorphous forms. From the broken edges emerge networks of steel wire that crisscross in a pattern of interlocking diamonds; the points of juncture are sealed together by tiny round glass or aluminum disks, creating molecular-looking webs that define the nexus of the future. Within these exquisite webs are hung clusters of very small cast bronze or anodyzed aluminum figures and abstract signs, many repeated from work to work, which seem to draw on the collective unconscious of the present.

In Brainstorm, 1987, a hollow classical head of oxidized bronze lies on its side like some recently unearthed archeological ruin. Out of its jagged forehead emerges a “crown” of crisscrossing wire strands to which undulating copper ribbons and small oxidized bronze figures typical of Hatcher's image lexicon have been attached: an alligator, a cross, a falling figure, a ladder, a starburst. As in the other sculptures, these are not so much symbols of the imagination as the idea of the imagination itself, suspended here as the repository of time, the locus where mythic past is linked to fantasized future.

Astronomical references also pervade Hatcher's work. Starman in the Ancient Garden, 1985, a model for a monumental sculpture for a public plaza in Philadelphia, commemorates the reappearance of Halley's comet in 1985, while The Manifold of Language, 1987, a large, semicircular, hand-colored cliché-verre drawing, is reminiscent of an ancient astrological diagram of the universe. The latter's black background represents the void of deep space, against which Hatcher has inscribed an expanding white “net” (the two-dimensional equivalent of the wire webs) and a galactic stream of emblematic images: a large wheel, a cubic grid, a zodiacal bull, and various disembodied organic and geometric forms, including fish, snakes, birds, crosses, and arrows. Here we are presented with a vision of the cosmos as a slowly streaming gyre, whose cyclical passage reinforces the sense of space's infinite expansion and the idea of time as a continuum. This confluence is offered as a metaphor for the simultaneity of existence possible within the imaginary space of the fantastic.

While very beautiful, Hatcher's works, particularly his sculptures, are neither nostalgic nor merely decorative. Their mythic resonances recall the works of Anne and Patrick Poirier, which, while more completely rooted in time past, also function as constructs of and for the imagination. Hatcher, in fashioning his cosmological model, seeks to recover something of art's affirmative, transcendent power—those qualities denied by or found irrelevant to much contemporary art. This enterprise, reaching beyond the tired twins of irony and cynicism but not succumbing to sentimentality, seems to me quite remarkable.

Paula Marincola