Critique and working methods found in
The Indelible Mark: Legacy of a German Upbringing.
Gabriela Hirt’s solo show at the Gage Gallery, March 9-28, 2021
By Kate Cino, Feb 23, 2021
Hirt grew up in Germany 20 years after World War Two, and remains haunted by the dark shadow of the Holocaust. Her show is titled: The Indelible Mark: Legacy of a German Upbringing. Indelible refers to a mark not easily erased, or an unforgettable story. Viewers are presented with a series of powerful paintings, and three dimensional artworks that invite you to share her experiences and memories.
Most of Hirt’s paintings in the show are large-format canvases. Underbelly, for example, measures 80x60 inches. Her style is similar to Action Painters, active in the 1950’s, during the era of Abstract Expressionism. The underpainting of Underbelly was completed outside on the grass. Two 40 by 60 inch canvas were placed side by side, close to pots of black and white paint.
To begin, Hirt uses the detached end of a bristle broom as a sweeping brush. After saturating the bristles, her energetic brushwork explodes in a series of gestural markmaking. Pacing around the canvas, she views her handiwork from different angles and perspectives. Nearing completion, Hirt uses a smaller brush to add some squiggles, fine lines and cross hatching. This newly coated canvas might look chaotic. But in the artist’s mind, the concept and outcome are crystal clear.
Hirt explains: “In Underbelly I wanted to show a group of privileged people above,” she says, “and a much larger group of victims below.” To create the victim’s faces and figures, Hirt applied several layers with various mediums. She used brushes, chalk pastels, wax crayons and palette knives. Ripped up paintings added texture and visual interest. These top layers were carefully composed, with attention paid to areas of positive and negative space. The subdued palette of warm ochre and gray conveys a meditative tone. There is a surreal beauty and dance-like elegance to the intertwined shapes and forms as they drift downward into oblivion.
The Bystander’s Trauma, measuring 30 by 48 inches, is another large painting in the show. Recently, most of us feel like bystanders, as society grapples with issues of racism, sexism, power and privilege. Movements like Truth and Reconciliation, Black Lives Matter and Me Too are demanding our attention. Some are experiencing a sense of collective guilt for their nation’s crimes.
On a personal level, Hirt is painfully aware of injustice in families and society. Her angst is clearly articulated in The Bystander’s Trauma. An elongated head with a piercing left eye perceives a line of prisoners moving towards a precipice. The powerful painting reverberates with dark drama and subliminal tension. These traits are found in German Expressionism, which articulates Inner emotional states with archetypal imagery. Strong colours, simplified forms and impasto brushwork highlight this genre, which originated in Europe in the 1920’s.
Private Party is a sculpture of three life-sized paper-mache figures. Tanya Bub assisted the artist with the wire frame construction. The three figures look inward, turning their backs on viewers. Visitors are invited to recall a time they felt excluded and pen a response directly on to the figures. By stepping literally into an “Outsider” space, the politics of inclusion and exclusion are presented in a personal way. (525 words)
The Indelible Mark offers viewers much to consider. Don’t miss Hirt’s remarkable show at the Gage Gallery March 9-28, 2021.