Cig Harvey – A touch of brilliance at Dowling Walsh Gallery/Rockland
When Cig Harvey spoke briefly at her 5/28/11 opening at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland, she started off by discussing the three phases in her life represented by these thirty works made between 2003 and 2011. Her earliest works on view, as represented by “Scoreboard” above, and “The Channel Marker” below, use herself as subject and speak of a time in her life when she had hit a brick wall and was desperately trying to navigate over it.
Phase Two is about her new found happiness and the blending of two lives, a fresh start with a beloved partner. She is not included as a subject in every one of these, but they continue to be investigations about her and her place in life, now as a party of two. They are very strong, very complex images, requiring the most attention of any works in the show if you want to find their essence.
The image above, one of the most striking photographs I’ve seen in her oeuvre, represents her current thinking. Cig tells me she is turning around to “see what is behind her” and is delighted with what she is finding. It’s hard to believe “The Pale Yellow Cadillac” is not a tightly controlled shoot, but it was a split-second find over her shoulder at another shoot. This picture is the apex of Cig’s brilliance, deceptively simple, deeply gripping portraits of the human condition. She is often looking outward now, and many of the current works provide us with mirrors into the essence of being human. They are about all of us.
I think the show has a little unfortunate curatorial schizophrenia in how it represents and/or displays Cig’s work and it gets distracting for me with too much of a mix, but perhaps that is indicative of the artist’s drive to experiment and her curiosity to find out what is beyond her own life experience. I can spot a Cig Harvey a mile away – and often do when in airports passing bookshops where I see her cover images on the re-released Anita Shreve books. But several of her more recent explorations included in the show just confuse and at times I wondered if it wasn’t a two-person show. The images of little girls are my least favorites of any of her work, and I think she needs to build more of a body of work in her newer neutral palette images and then severely edit before including them in a show such as this that should be a tighter overview of nine years of work. Perhaps if they had been installed together – the three little girls as a series, and then the three or so neutral palette works together as an exploration in progress – I could have learned more from them. As it is, they dilute the show’s thrust for me.
Often, when an artist is depicting deeply personal experiences, the viewer is left far behind and usually wondering, “who cares?”. But here is Cig’s gift to us, and a precious one it is: Whether you are studying earlier images based on her own life and situations we can never know about, good or bad, or her more current work (like the gorgeous “Elizabeth” above) that includes others, the impact is universal in reach. Very, very much so.
If you can view the 27 works in this exhibit (on view through 6/25) and not be deeply touched, and not discover something about yourself you hadn’t verbalized before, I’d like to hear about it. Men and women alike are blown away by Cig’s images. When an artist connects this successfully with her audience, it represents a deep, genuine focus on creating. With so many artists, it is all about them and frankly, I get increasingly bored and irritated being placed on the outside looking in, usually at some message that is not worthy of our attention. There is not a hint of self-consciousness in Harvey’s works – a bit stunning considering many of the works depict the artist herself in times of introspective soul-searching and some of the newer works are carefully staged.
Cig Harvey does not philosophize to us, does not use her photographs to teach us how to live. Oh no. She warmly welcomes us as full participants, offering profound, visual statements that invite us to bring our entire selves into the works if we will only take the time – a generosity of spirit and intent that is her biggest triumph.