Gardening at Night, 2013©Cig Harvey. All Rights Reserved
On June 4, 2011, I posted here about Cig Harvey’s show of work at Dowling Walsh Gallery in Rockland Maine. It has never stopped being one of the most-read postings on my site.
Well, she’s back – and I’m back at it. “Gardening at Night”, now on view through September 30 at Dowling Walsh, is a spectacular new body of work. Not only does the show include 25 framed chromogenic color prints, most of which are 28″x28″, but there are three animation boxes that are a really provoking way to view the works featured. Plus a little neon to further shake things up. Oh, plus a brilliant group of twenty tiny works titled “Cultural Miscellanea, 2013″ created on duralar with thread, pencil and sometimes gum bichromate. My favorite is “Text Message” (see bottom of posting) and the image crosses my mind regularly since I saw it.
All of this points to an original vision and the means to realize it through various media in a body of work – my definition of a fine artist.
The Zucchini Seed, 2013©Cig Harvey. All Rights Reserved
“The world is so much bigger than I am… will I get swallowed up? Will fate be kind to me and my dreams?”
Cig’s work always seems to be about fear and these new works are no exception. Whereas much of her earlier work was about her own “passages”, this body of work addresses the larger experience of life’s turning points for us all – especially of women and maybe only of women. Even the images with men as the subject come across strongly to me that it is a woman’s viewpoint about what these scenarios symbolize that is under consideration here.
The other thing that makes this show of work different is that while earlier works were carefully constructed, planned and scripted, the works in “Gardening at Night” were not. Of course the artist was shooting early and often, so to speak, but Cig tells me it wasn’t until she got to the editing/review stage that she sometimes found herself gob-smacked by what happened via her camera. The results of deeply honed instincts and years of experience are on view here.
White Witch Moth, Devin, Rockport, Maine, 2012©Cig Harvey. All Rights Reserved
Thank goodness Cig doesn’t indulge in psychobabble for titles – trust me, the pictures say it all, and provide their own entry point for any focused viewer. The titles of the works simply include names, subject and places, allowing the visual voice of the image and the image-maker to stand free and clear of any proscribed din. Many artists could learn much from this alone. I find Vicki Goldberg’s catalog essay falls into the “artspeak” category unfortunately, and will say no more about it.
I found the compositions so bold. “Alissa and the Dust” is an example of how composition plays the lead role in many of these pictures. It’s not that it isn’t vital to the artist’s decision-making for every image in the show, but how she frames the shot – what exactly is in and what is not – can be the real drive behind the visual experience quite often here. Second reason for photographers to study these works. (“Since the photographer’s picture was not conceived but selected, his subject was never truly discrete, never wholly self-contained. The edges of his film demarcated what he thought most important, but the subject he had shot was something else; it had extended in four directions. If the photographer’s frame surrounded two figures, isolating them from the crowd in which they stood, it created a relationship between those two figures that had not existed before. The central act of photography, the act of choosing and eliminating, forces a concentration on the picture edge—the line that separates in from out—and on the shapes that are created by it.” from the Introduction to the catalog of the exhibition “The Photographer’s Eye” – John Szarkowski)
Alissa and the Dust, 2013©Cig Harvey. All Rights Reserved
Spend time with each image and you will find the “note” Cig so artfully uses as an entrance to it. An example is “The Buttercups, Devin, Camden, ME”. Without that fluttering hand, that hand that speaks volumes and volumes, the picture would be like a book with no plot.
The Buttercups, Devin, Camden, Maine, 2013©Cig Harvey. All Rights Reserved
Along with that wondrous-sounding “note”, the artist is a perfect match for her process of choice – chromogenic color prints – and the deep, rich colors play a very large part in the artist’s instincts when it comes to dramatic picture-making. Even a cursory glance at “The Wolfhound, Hope, Maine” gives us a lesson in both “note” and hue:
The Wolfhound, Hope, Maine©Cig Harvey. All Rights Reserved
Let’s face it: many people, even those with all the advantages life can offer, end up on a path in life that is disappointing and with dreams tarnished or long since sailed away – either by circumstances or because of weakness and misguided decisions. The apprehension pulsating from these images can just about be captured in a jar: children, teens and adults who pause to look within and wonder… “How do I know if I will be strong enough, and will the gods smile on me sometimes?”
And here is the closet-sized complaint department: I think there are a couple of images included in this show that add little, if anything, to its strengths, and in fact confuse (“Dartmoor Pony, Devon England” and “The Slug and the Puddle” come to mind). I also question the decision to print 3 pictures at 18″x18″. I believe they would be more powerful, feel less like second-class citizens (especially with that almost monochromatic palette trying to hold its weight against the high drama color of most of the larger prints), and make more sense for the exhibit as a whole at 28″x28″. As much as I love the “Cultural Miscellanea, 2013″ grouping, I would not have placed it at the beginning of the viewing experience, and would most likely have installed it outside the main viewing room in the vicinity of the three animated pieces. At the opening I attended, three 28″x28″ images were in the director’s office, including to me the keystone image of the show “The Zucchini Seed” (inserted at the top of this posting). That beginning wall is where they should have been. And lastly, two or three of the photographs hit me as less-than-genuine and a bit prop-y, for example “Mary, Ole and Finn, Rockland, Maine” and “The Orchard, Warren, Maine”.
None of these are minor complaints in my view, but do not move the entire show off its A+++ perch.
“Gardening at Night” is one of the few fine art photographs shows I’ve seen in Maine where, as you work your way through it, the experience becomes like a visual version of a musical flash mob. As you move to each new picture, it steps up and adds its own rich voice to the composition, until by the last one, you have reached the aesthetic equivalent of being enveloped by a complex and powerfully moving symphony.
Text Message (from “Cultural Miscellanea, 2013″) mixed media©Cig Harvey. All Rights Reserved
And… speaking of flash mobs. If only we could put our resources and energies into public performance and the arts instead of war chests, what a different world this would be. For now – take a few minutes, smile along with the others in these two links to YouTube and be a little richer for it. Then check in to “Gardening at Night” and lose yourself.