• Unforeseen Ahead: Maria Hjelmeland – Perry McPartland

    Date posted: June 18, 2006 Author: jolanta

    Unforeseen Ahead: Maria Hjelmeland

    Perry McPartland

    Image

    These
    might just turn out to be exciting times for painters yet. One of
    postmodernism’s most exciting leads is its allowance for the possible
    appropriation of all past forms, without these forms bearing the defining
    limits of their contemporaneous theory. And in so far as postmodernism
    represents a critically theoretical response to theory, it most commonly
    utilizes the past form as little more than locus and prompt. However in what is
    more or less a reverse of contemporary habit, the 26 year old Norwegian, Maria
    Hjelmeland, has chosen an involved engagement with the form of abstraction
    while discarding the theoretical entelechy of its promulgation. Improvisory, a
    seat-of-the-pants-sailing, insouciant, and sustained by a particular
    virtuosity, her works of the last year bespeak a personal reformulation of
    abstract painting.

     

    Despite
    the visual resemblance to the work of the Abstract Expressionists, Hjelmeland�s
    paintings aren’t aesthetic mimesis or smug appropriation. Neither do these
    distinctly female paintings spring from a criticism or even reaction to what
    was a very male dominated field. Without a capitulation to its Spartan tenets
    of style and purity on the one hand, and against any vicarious romanticism or
    snide refereeing on the other, she simply gambles her talent- and proceeds
    unforeseen. Regardless of the familiarity of their form, these paintings’
    character and implication are idiosyncratic and fresh, a singular sensibility
    emerges that sustains them as genuine works.

     

    To
    describe them is to
    style=’mso-bookmark:OLE_LINK7′>iterate their diversity and
    invention. From the fifteen paintings I have seen, seven distinct and original
    abstract styles emerge. And this isn’t the dabbling of mere precocity-rather,
    each picture exhibits a mature resolution. Furthermore, it seems to me that it
    is through their discrete diversity that their sense is revealed. They are
    foremostly visual, highly colored and materially diverse. Not usually large,
    they nonetheless have a forthright physical insistence, the surety of their
    material handling asserting itself. It is through this touch- as opposed to any
    stylistic consistency- that the artist’s signature and the work’s personality
    are manifested. In Untitled 7 (2003), the paint lumps, dribbles, swerves gravidly,
    streams and thickens. A saturated vermilion makes a brazen slash across
    patchwork tones and over a puddled pool of glue, jumping at its combed,
    extrovert edges. An A3 sheet of luminescent orange rice paper is wrinkled,
    folded, torn and fingered into the paint surface, while the canvas itself is
    creased, scored and punctured, further large cuts of canvas are sown back into
    the surface. And as a simultaneous arrest and coda, an ochre line of masking
    tape guillotines the action and gives the painting an edge 2 inches before its
    bottom proper.

     

    A
    vigorously chromatic palette is most usual, though experimentation being the
    only norm, the palette can shift to the tautly tonal, or even to the lights of
    pastoral calm. Aesthetically they are very alluring. Yet Hjelmeland�s balances
    her natural flair for the beautiful with a certain intelligence and taste.
    While the coloring is measured and seductive- taking its pointers from 19th and
    20th century tradition- it has been extended to include the bold and glaring
    hues that characterize design and pop art. Acid yellows bee-striped with an
    oily liquorice-blue, chocolate mousse splurges pitted with tart pink paw
    prints. The moments of elegy that abstraction naturally lends itself to are
    visually qualified, or otherwise interrupted by the vulgar or cartoonish-
    sometimes even a caustic bite from the Pattern and Decoration Movement.

     

    Contrary
    to the majority of Abstract Expressionists, these pictures possess a rare
    quality of mood (my feeling being that the greater amount of Abstract
    Expressionist work was characterized by sensation as opposed to mood- a big
    difference). And although Hjelmeland’s work is likely to strike the viewer as
    initially sensational, it has none of Abstract Expressionism’s sublime angst or
    its gruellingly necessitated and final quality of image. In her defense, the
    mythic and heroic proportions that this implies are probably quite foreign to
    Hjelmeland’s sensibility- her resources having their basis in prodigal flair
    and quick invention. The voice here is whispered, acute and pudent; as objects
    they are intimate and mutual. Rothko said big paintings, in so far as they wrap
    around the viewer, are intimate. However that’s a different intimacy- the
    sensation of being enveloped completely in their environment. Hjelmeland’s
    works, the small pieces in particular, often have the close presence of a
    person.

     

    This
    mood of theirs is often informed by an unusual spatial quality. Lots of the
    works- even some of the square images- tend to encourage a lateral reading,
    which engages the eye in such a manner that they seem to take to ages to
    traverse; they feel
    much longer than they are. It’s a quality to be found in Vermeer and some of
    the less overt Twombly’s, and it makes for a lightness and a rare,
    contradictory limbo.

     

    There
    are some things that her work needs, but these present limitations are the
    natural limitations of her short time with the medium. And I’ve decided to
    withdraw before suggesting them- the absence of a Thou shallt having so
    far been revealed as beneficial, perhaps even formulatingly definitive of her
    process.

     

    The
    exigencies of painting being so strenuous, and the line that marks quality so
    high, any assessment of a young painter can only be provisory. In Hjelmeland’s
    case we can only collate and remark: a hazard of natural talent and a
    personality of singular invention. And we can keep an eye on her.

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