Hatch Takes Some New Directions, by David Dodd Lee

It’s always interesting to watch an artist develop. Kalamazoo artist Mary Hatch, who has been painting for decades and whose work has appeared in galleries from New York City to Chicago, has been pushing the figure on stage in strange dreamlike poses her whole career. Her men and women dangle or stand usually in groups like apparitions who have just entered a room designed by Magritte.

In her latest exhibit, “Secret Gardens and Passing Landscapes at the Park Gallery, Hatch presents some familar elements but also takes off in new directions, with mixed success. She continues to evolve, unlike many artists, who find a motif and beat it to death, parodying themselves for 30 or 40 years.

For fans of her past work, there are paintings like “The Dance Class”, a large work full of female figures posed variously inside a dance studio. The women – different versions of the dreaming self, perhaps – are oblivious to one another and seem obsessed with some faraway thought.

One figure looks out at the viewer; another has closed her eyes. One is dressed- exposed might be a better work- in a one-piece bathing suit, while the foreground figure is a woman in a blue evening dress that matches the color of the sky seen through the two small windows. She seems to be the central consciousness in the work, whose different selves literally spread themselves in her quiet and mysterious wake.

A more successful painting is the vibrant “Clouds Over Miami”, in which a beautiful young woman plummets out of the sky (or simply dangles over the landscape- it’s hard to tell which), while the wind blows her red dress in a swirl of marvelous pink and red brush work.

Her face seems mask-like, but the legs are articulated with delicacy. They are sexy, and the painting as a whole feels sexy, if cryptic. It is full of energy. It is as if the woman has dreamed herself from some banal social function into this land full of wind and writing trees. The piece trembles with the emotional sexual energy of escape.

Some newer work has Hatch giving her presentation a postmodern look. She deconstructs her tendency for using the figure as private symbol and allegory. Harlequins and fantasy maidens people these strange works, in which decorative arches enclose and emphasize the airless quality of her figures’ dream lives.

Hatch’s work has always felt somewhat hermetic. But these paintings feel lifeless, in part because the scale of the paintings has been reduced but also because Hatch’s palette seems to have become an interior decorator’s. Salmon and beige blend with muted blues and reds. The tastefully pastel framing devices kill the formal life in what is otherwise a wonderful landscape painting in ” The Harlequin and the Maiden.”

But “Ordinary Things” and “Drawings on Stone” do succeed.

“Drawings on Stone” is a large painting, and the dancing couple is merely a sketch- a true rendering- in the artist’s dreamscape. They are frozen on the surface of the work, in the painting’s architectural space, while the landscape pulls us – breath and all- deep into the darker colors of the trees, mountains and sky of the real world.

“Ordinary Things” features a young boy and girl playing on a deck. But the figures seem intentionally peripheral, incidental to the bluster and beauty of the blossoming greens and reds that activate the trees overhead. If this world is, indeed, a stage, it is the impressionistic paint handling and pure color that steal the show- the way the light blue sky bleeds through the leaves, the way a ghost of a lawn chair is barely visible in the yard beyond the deck where the children obliviously play.

Finally, wonderfully, Hatch has painted a series of very small landscapes. These are breathlessly confident works, as deft as a work by Franz Kline, as luminous as a painting by Mark Rothko. In “Passing Landscape #2,” shrubs seem to float in a sea of flaming orange and pink grasses. And the horizon is alive with the dark, shadowy presence of spruces, loosely and skillfully painted beneath a glowing blue sky that cuts a slashing diagonal across the small work’s surface.

There are seven of these landscape paintings, and they ring with signs of human presence that nature simply bleeds through. And Hatch’s calligraphic and slapdash paint handling is loose and authoritative. These small paintings alone are worth a visit to the Park Gallery.

But go for all of it. Go to see one of our best local artists spreading her wings, sometimes falling, sometimes flying.

Series   Reviews

"Wardrobe", oil on linen, 12” x 12”
"Wardrobe", oil on linen, 12” x 12”