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A Little Bit Crazy PDF Print E-mail
Art - Reviews
Tuesday, 17 December 2002 18:00
Initially, the pairing of Eric Mart and William Hannan in an exhibit at MidCoast Gallery West feels dichotomous and unnerving. There is the storied flow of Hannan’s calligraphy around his illustrations in one eye, and the skittering, nearly audible rattle of Mart’s sculptures in the other.

Yet the artists share an understanding of the importance of art and freedom. And despite their divergence in materials and methods, both create pieces that require more than passive viewing.

An example of this is their collaboration, in which the words of an epigraph chosen by Hannan were cut from a piece of scrap metal by Mart. “Government has no right to control individual liberty beyond what is necessary to the safety and well-being of society,” it says, quoting Henry Calhoun. Hannan felt that Calhoun’s statement best described a conversation between him and Mart that addressed their feelings about the necessary function of art in giving the public a way to feel about things on its own terms.

The inscription has the tone of an epitaph, owing to the gravestone-like shape of the metal plates Mart used. When asked if this was deliberate, Mart explained, “That was just the shape they happened to be in. I see it as taking negative space and turning it into positive space.” Even though the choice of material was arbitrary, the nature of the text on the rusted, used surface gives one the sense that Mart and Hannan are telling us that sentiments such as Calhoun’s are not being heeded by our government. The collaboration is being sold through silent auction, and the proceeds will be donated to the gallery.

Mart’s sculpture radiates an intense motion. He uses his skills as a welder to re-construct the leftovers of industry into images separate from the industrialized society we might be inured to. The Fishbowl Birdbath Man conveys the attitude of a supplicant whose knees are buckling with the weight of what he is holding. The figure’s attitude of collapse is strange in relation to the solid things it is made from. The Solfaces have expressions cut into them that ripple between vaguely menacing and watchful. The Quartermoon Moshpit Ruler is threatening to kick ass; it rears on the base and transmits all the rage and arrogance of an old Black Flag song.

Mart credits the movement in his work partly to the materials he works with – old engine parts and other found materials – but mainly to his desire to “give life to recycled metal.” In view of the scrap metal he uses, Mart says, “Some people look at scrap and see density without movement; I’m illuminating dense material, and that’s what makes it move.”

He describes Relaxed Discipline as being “meditative in a hardcore industrial environment.” In the piece, the patching together of the squares and how they hold together exhibits discipline, the idea of the fabric of culture and progress and the environment attempting to reconcile. It is where the light and air come through the spaces between the metal that any aspect of relaxation is conveyed. Mart is using his art to transform the detritus of industrialized society into illumination and balance. The Meditation silhouette is a muscular figure in a lotus position that gives off an aura of aggressive resistance combined with acceptance. “In this society,” says Mart, “you have to adapt and adjust, not exactly ‘go with the flow,’ but twist it to your own perception.”

William Hannan sees the exhibition of his work as “basically my periodic report to people about what I’ve been up to, where I’ve gone, what I’m interested in.” Hannan began scripting and illustrating works as a means to use his talent beyond lettering certificates and invitations. His graphite portrait of Anne Sexton transforms her commonly perceived image as a twitchy, brilliant, cocktail-grasping neurotic. His vision of her is that of a compelling witch goddess. The lettering of her poetry that surrounds the image weaves a difficult spell. Just like Sexton’s poetry, the calligraphy is cramped in places, hard to get, then expansive, revealing and turned in on itself simultaneously.

In the books that he assembles from handmade paper, his technique has evolved from using silk-screening and offset-printing methods to computer scanning and digital editing. He agrees with the maxim that “the art enhances the technology,” but he adds: “Likewise, the technology can enhance the art.” By scanning his lettering and illustrations, Hannan is then able to clean up and strengthen his ideas as he wishes. The digital book I Long to Hold animates the words of Leonard Cohen and deeply transmits the lamenting rumble of his voice. The paper is soft and comforting to feel, but the illustrations are as stark as the thick, heavy words are unsettling.

Placing the use of computer technology into the genealogy of illuminated texts is simple for Hannan, who is enthusiastic about whatever tools he can adapt and use to communicate his ideas. William Blake was a mystic who created an entirely new process of etching as a medium to put forth his ideas of the spirit and permanence. Similarly Hannan uses the medium of digital technology to solidify and convey his sense of what he is scripting and illustrating. “Blake created a whole new form of etching so his ideas would work,” Hannan says. “That’s kind of crazy, but aren’t we all?”

A closing reception for the show will be held Friday, December 20, from 7 to 10 p.m. MidCoast Gallery West is located at 1629 Second Avenue in Rock Island.
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