Laurie Hogin

Peter Miller Gallery

Early in the 19th century Edward Hicks repeatedly painted William Penn amidst the becalmed beasts of the wild. Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom embodied a precious hope of the Age of Reason: that in the new Eden of America, the aims of mankind and the dictates of nature had found a harmony reflecting an innate universal order. Laurie Hogin’s recent show of 16 paintings, entitled “Whose Woods Are These,” (all works 1990) suggests that things have irrevocably changed; Hicks’ Eden never existed, or at any rate has been hopelessly befouled, and human existence and environmental disorder are inexorably linked.

Like some Lewis Carroll nightmare, Hogin’s canvases are populated by freaks from the animal kingdom, grinning and scowling out at the humans responsible for their mutant condition. In Hogin’s bestiary, not only do rabbits sport leopard skins, lobsters glow blue, and birds flutter in spastic abandon, but these strange hybrids sport new personalities to go with their plumage; the physiognomies of Hogin’s creatures are so expressively malevolent as to indicate human models.

Hogin alludes to our destructive effect on natural rhythms by inscribing paintings with tiny gold words spelling out the names of chemicals. Other paintings are discreetly framed with scrolls of cursive text, describing recent egregious environmental catastrophes, or quoting poems from the Romantic era that trumpet the harmony with nature Hogin’s imagery decisively undercuts.

Hogin’s estimable pictorial skills make bizarre scenes credible, and her command of animal anatomy, even in these mutated states, is extraordinarily convincing. The ecological havoc Hogin postulates in these pictures is a lush and fecund one; her animals are compendia of sorts, ultracreatures with an almost sickening beauty. Hogin presents this quirky distopia in a quasi-documentary style, quite similar to the manner in which Baroque artists recorded the fauna of the new world. Though her vision is less optimistic, Hogin’s paintings do more than just argue that there is a worm in the Arcadian apple; her work reminds us that we placed it there.

James Yood