John Armstrong

Lucy Hogg
Closet Abstracts
Anodyne Contemporary Art, Vancouver

For several years, Lucy Hogg has referred to her on-going, non-figural works as “closet abstracts.” This term reminds me of “Abstracts at Home,” the title of the 1953 exhibition that introduced a corner of modernity to the Toronto public. In an exercise of creative marketing, a number of Toronto artists (who later formed the Painters Eleven group) displayed their abstract paintings alongside contemporary furniture in a storefront window in Simpsons, a downtown department store. Of course the label “closet abstracts” is not clever historical recuperation, nor is it meant to indicate that these are paintings to hang your clothes up beside (even though Hogg’s palette in these abstract paintings very often has to do with her take on the season’s “colours”). The moniker relegates these paintings to a parenthetical position beside works that, since the mid 1980s, represent her more official style  — the often large-scale paintings she makes based on grand-manner, 18th- and 19th-century portraiture. The exhibition at Anodyne Contemporary Art is, in effect, a coming out for the closet abstracts; this, and the modest scale of Anodyne’s space (in a former office) might lead one to see this exhibition as Hogg’s Abstracts at Home.

Truth be told, Hogg has always been occupied with both figural and abstract painting. In the mid 1970s, while regularly working from the figure in drawing, her more public line of painting consisted of largish abstract works with a zigzag design that created a number of interlocking triangles. At the edges of the canvas the forms were feathered to reveal the unprimed cotton, in the manner of (Painters Eleven member) Jack Bush’s paintings of the same period. Her paintings’ feathered edges also disclosed the many layers of paint (all in a cheery pastel palette) that she would methodically apply until an occult balance of chromatic tension was met. Ceaseless colour revision is common to all of Hogg’s subsequent work; it provides evidence of the painting’s manufacture and embodies a trailing sense of contingency.

The present exhibition of abstracts comprises five of Hogg’s horizontally stretched oval canvases, each of which is based around a looping doodle that forms the pictures’ central element. She reiterates this motif in repeated parallel bands to create something resembling a Celtic knot. The repetition of lines creates striated hatching; this is the same technique she uses to chart out three-dimensional form in her grand-manner portraits. And all of those years of wandering about the tenebrous visions of centuries past in European museums has resulted in her dedication to glazing and scumbling. She repeatedly glazes over her pictures in layers of transparent black, quinacridone violet and dioxazine purple to mute and adjust her initial colours — a palette that Toronto critic Gary Michael Dault has described as resembling Pez candies. In the end, the loops slumber beneath a weight of glazed occlusion and the peek-a-boo, scumbled ground reasserts her initial buoyant palette.

These recent abstract paintings contain Hogg’s figural works and her cycles of endless adjustment. Perhaps the grand-manner portraits are Hogg’s points of departure, the loss leaders. The sticker value would lie with the closet abstracts and the figural works together in one exhibition, something the artist has yet to assay: Abstracts and Figuration (finally) at Home.

“Lucy Hogg.” C International Contemporary Art 67/68, Winter 2000-2001