Boston

Judy Haberl

Akin Gallery

Judy Haberl’s puzzle paintings combine found objects, paper, and paint to create dense objects that pose playful questions about the nature of appropriation. Haberl’s Rauschenbergian fantasies juxtapose kitschy artifacts with a more personal vision of reality. Her earlier works included jigsaw-puzzle reproductions of paintings by masters of Modern art; the 11 new collages contain jigsaw-puzzle images of traditional landscapes, still lifes, and nature studies. The puzzle pieces investigate the possibilities that arise from reconstructing banal puzzle parts so that they become something dramatic and unique. The most successful images are those in which Haberl employs the jigsaw puzzles as a starting point and integrates their surfaces into her own more painterly materials.

The jigsaw puzzle itself is an appropriated medium, a photographic reproduction that is enlarged and deconstructed into many parts. Haberl only partially completes each puzzle, so that its parts become obvious as fragments of both constructed and cultural reality. She then attaches the puzzle to the heavy rag paper and applies her own concoction of acrylic gel and sawdust over, under, and around the puzzle image. The gel medium has a relief quality that recalls soil in its thickness and warmth. In Bounty, 1988, a puzzle reproduction of fresh vegetables extends into a much larger surrounding area of green and brown murky paint. Some of the vegetables seem to grow from the core puzzle into the surrounding constructed space. The strokes are highly charged and give new lushness to the puzzle still life.

Pure Thoughts, 1988, further explores the problem of coupling puzzle with paint, subject with process. Portions of two separate puzzles—one of yellow tulips, the other of a blue sky—combine to form the bottom and top portion of an arched window. The curved blue dome of puzzle-sky establishes a cloudy, heavenly rapport with the tulip puzzle at the base of the window via a thin wash of gray-green. Surrounding the arch is a thicker surface of muddy paint that suggests the walls of some ancient sacred city. In this piece, the jigsaw materials are so skillfully integrated with the surrounding constructed image of ancient wall and window that they lose their quality as kitsch and begin to suggest something visionary.

Francine A. Koslow