John Armstrong

Lucy Hogg
Vancouver Art Gallery

Lucy Hogg's installation of her paintings at the VAG is an extravagant refiguration of the spectacle of the early- to mid-19th-century French academy as it may now be seen at the Louvre or The Musée d'Orsay. The exhibition occupies two rooms painted in a flat latex of bilious mint alluding to the fabric-covered walls of salon galleries.  The first and smaller room contains two pairs of paintings quoting Ingres's The Bather of Valpinçon and La Grande Odalisque. Hogg's reprises of these paintings are composites of the several versions of each that Ingres executed. The high-wall gallery continues Hogg's reiteration of nineteenth-century idealization in monumentally scaled versions of Cabanel's Birth of Venus, Gericault's Charging Chassseur and Wounded Cuirassier, and Ingres's La Source.  There are also two intimately scaled renditions of a portrait excerpted from Delacroix's Orphan at the Cemetery and an enlarged copy of David's Madame Récamier.

The opening of the Louvre to the public at the end of the eighteenth century reflected the Revolution's and the Empire's notion that the museum would serve an educational function by providing for a democratic access to humanity's achievements in art. The paintings that Hogg cites were produced with the notion that art's proper place — in this case, official French art — was such an institution. To this day, learning how to paint at the Louvre involves the production of polite, just-off-scale copies done on site. 

Hogg makes clear her reference to these historical paintings — and to the devalued procedure of copying — by conspicuously outlining and gridding-up her sources in bright vermilion; some of the grid's lines, along with unfinished passages, are visible in the finished work. Hogg copies the original artworks brushstroke by brushstroke treating the photcopied image from which she works as undifferentiated information. All of her paintings' elaborated surfaces are constructed of layers of scumble and glazing, which far exceed the requirements of a faithful copy. Hogg contradicts academic painting's subordination of the ground to the figure through her use of arbitrary colours and complementary colour pairing. The bituminous chiaroscuro of Gericault or the cool of Ingres's enamelled polish are replaced by Hogg's own evident education in Modernism's admission of the literal and formal constituents of painting. 

The nineteenth-century paintings Hogg refers to stand as testimony to western art's interest in grandiloquent narratives of history and conquest in which men are all too often heroically manly and women passive objects of desire. In Hogg's own paintings, Gericualt's horsemen are no longer overbearing heros and protagonists but appear overcome by their ostentatious military regalia — now recast in Rococo powder blue — and somehow diminished by their nervous, snorting thoroughbred horses. Nineteenth-century paintings lovingly described luxurious fabric and costume; Hogg's treatment of Ingres's taffetas, silks and satins precludes the materialism of her sources to present a Byzantine interlace of sensually declarative paint held in lockstep position by a Cloisonnist underdrawing.

The female nude, a traditional bearer of the erotic, recedes (like the officers of the cavalry) into an advancing warm ground. The flesh of the women's bodies is described by a layered moiré pattern of cross-contour lines that both didactically charts and confuses the position of the figure in space. Grant Arnold, in the essay that accompanies the exhibition, characterizes these bodies as exoskeletons that deflect the viewers' gaze. The erotic is displaced, referring us to the process of the painting's manufacture.

One of Gericault's dandified warriors carries a non-finito emasculated sabre; Venus and the symbolic figure of La Source play out both the vertical/active or horizontal/passive archetypes of gender as cool phosphorescent ciphers uneasily located in environments of the molten and sanguine. The protagonist in these paintings is Hogg's insistence on the paintings' facture. Through this insistence she invokes a modernist gesture of presence. The authority of the museum and the artist's hand are laid bare and then cross dressed.

C Magazine 42, Summer 1994