Thoughts on the Education of Daughters
In the past I have avoided painting the human figure. I began this series as a way to return, thinking about the phrase figure/ground, a person in a landscape. I played around with photographs as a starting point, my own as well as images from advertisements. Thoughts on the Education of Daughters is a book Mary Wollstonecraft published in 1787, encouraging educators and parents to teach their daughters independence, self-sufficiency, and the intellectual skills needed to survive.
When I think about the figure/ground conditions of my life’s landscape in relation to Wollstonecraft’s, fundamentally not much has changed. For example, it wasn’t until 1993 that rape within marriage was a crime in the U.S. Title IX, a 1972 law that began as giving women access to sports in education and grew to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity, mental and physical differences, as well as protection from sexual harassment and violence at school, began to be rescinded in 2017. These paintings grow out of a wish to put myself in the picture: here are stunt doubles for my efforts to take part in life confidently and without fear.
When a painting or a photograph works, I feel a wonder about where it came from, what has intervened to make it happen, as I do with leaf patterns or graffiti or cave paintings in France. Science and guesswork still can’t tell us who made the cave paintings or when. At the base of some of them are scratch marks, not made by human hands (perhaps by bears), which to me are the most interesting. Yes, this is a bison, and this is a human hand, but what are these scratches?
I’ve spent years in the darkroom making photographs and then in the studio making paintings, observing strict rules about keeping the two activities separate. Now I am combining the material and tools of paint with the figuration and tools of photography, and the ability of both media to evoke and abstract. I use tape, trowels, scrapers, rags, and brushes, and also overhead and slide projectors.
Most of the time it takes months to resolve an image and I don’t always know when it is right. Sometimes others have to tell me. The process mirrors how I live and make sense of life: I make mistakes, struggle with communication, get into trouble. Sometimes I feel that rightness, that wonder, as though a member of some other species made that scratch, left that trace.
New Work 2012
Homeless Abstraction and The Settle Bed
Sometimes it’s good to be lost, but you don’t want to stay lost—like the lookout climbing down the mast from the fog in Seamus Heaney’s poem “The Settle Bed,” and the ship’s gone. When you’re at the top and you’re looking out, you have an idea. The climbing down the mast from that idea is where a painting begins, and by the end it’s something else entirely, but you still want it to mean something. You want the ship to be there when you climb down.
Painting is limitlessness. That’s a bit scary, because you need to be able to communicate. The painting has to have something to grab on to. The challenge is figuring out how to do that, without letting yourself get away with something.
You can make up the limits for yourself, like I’m a realist painter, or a minimalist painter, to pare it down a bit. I say it’s all abstract, but on what plane will people to recognize things? I would like people to see my work on a metaphorical plane. The realm I play with is landscape, but I don’t want to have cues, like “cloud,” though I might. I moving beyond my own landscape schema, definitely beyond trees—though I still might do a tree painting now and then. I just don’t want to repeat myself, at least not all the time.
…whatever is given
Can always be reimagined, however four-square,
Plank-thick, hull-stupid and out of its time
It happens to be.
Homeless abstraction is a phrase I overhead in a gallery. To me it means a painting that doesn’t communicate anything, a feeling or a recognition. And the Settle Bed is redundancy of self. In the context of tradition, it’s conditioning. At this stage of making paintings that step farther into the abstract, these two concepts guide me.
Painting can be anything: the challenge is how to communicate. It helps to pare things down, like saying, “I’m a realist painter,” or “I’m a minimalist painter.” I say painting itself is abstract—it’s all metaphor. While working on this series I have been thinking about scarification, the process in logging of dragging a tree through the woods. It breaks up and loosens the forest floor, and seeds germinate.
I began my career as an artist working with photography. Then I shifted into representational painting, especially of woods and rocks and water, and from there into abstract landscapes. In all this work, the images have functioned as windows, looking from the inside out. For the current series I have challenged myself to work indoors, and inwards, resisting the seduction of the natural world. I scrape and scarify the surface as a physical route into abstraction.
Barbara Hadden was born in Hamburg, Germany, and spent her childhood in Europe and the Middle East. She studied painting, photography and filmmaking at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. She was awarded an Alumni Traveling Fellowship from that school for her work in photography. Hadden was a finalist in the Regional Fellowships for Visual Arts, awarded through the New England Foundation for the Arts. In the last decade, she regularly attended artist residency programs, which have deepened her commitment to landscape-based painting and photography. She lives in western Massachusetts.
Art New England
West Island Gallery
Barbara Hadden: Paintings and Photographs
Many of the twenty-four pieces in Barbara Hadden’s first solo exhibit at West Island Gallery draw on a residency last year at the Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences, a 600 acres forested preserve in the northeastern corner of Georgia. Clearly the Boston-based painter and photographer was smitten with what she refers to as the “chaotic landscape,” a rich tangle of trees and blowdowns, underbrush and vines.
Oil, acrylic, and combination gouache-and-watercolor paintings in varying sizes, most of them from 2004-2005, conjure wooded interiors thick with tupelo, beech, poplar, and oak, and include a creek, pond, or mountain ridge here and there. The rendering is generally loose and abstract, transcending, as the artist notes, “the specifics of location.”
In Nantahala Wilderness, dark trunks alternate with irregular bands of light to represent the forest environment. The slender trees that form a kind of screen across the canvas in Poplar Grove cast diagonal shadows on the forest floor. Branches often cut or arc across the picture plane, as in Ramsey Creek and Hog Mountain II, breaking the overall verticality. Kangaroo Falls brings to mind the woods paintings of Lois Dodd, While Emmet Pond has the dynamism of Joellyn Duesberry’s monotype landscapes.
Seven selenium-toned silver print photographs are interspersed among the paintings. These photos fit nicely into the flow of the show, not only because they share subject matter - patches of untouched woodland – but also thanks to their abstract qualities, which Hadden sometimes accomplishes by varying focus from foreground to background.
A pair of Maine coast views in watercolor and gouache titled Casco Bay and View of Hope Island rounds out the display. Full of brilliant light, they, too, express a special sense of place.