Evoke Con­tem­po­rary, 130 Lin­coln Ave., 995-9902; through Novem­ber

Pasatiempo - - Art In Review -

Ha­ley Hasler, Colorado artist Ha­ley Hasler has some­thing to say in her one-per­son show at Evoke Con­tem­po­rary of 11 mod­er­ately sized paint­ings ex­e­cuted be­tween 2006 and 2009. It’s just dif­fi­cult to know what that is, ex­actly.

Each paint­ing con­tains a full-length self­por­trait in which the artist has posited her­self front and cen­ter in the most bizarre predica­ments, yet th­ese sit­u­a­tions ex­ude do­mes­tic­ity. Be­sides her­self, the artist some­times em­ploys mem­bers of her fam­ily, in­clud­ing cats, dogs, and a few friends, in house­hold scenes or in the great out­doors, pos­ing them as props to ad­vance her nar­ra­tive.

Not only do Hasler’s paint­ings seem to ex­plore the dy­nam­ics of fam­ily re­la­tion­ships, they of­ten take from art his­tory as in­spi­ra­tion. The lat­ter point grounds her work— ex­e­cuted in full, rich color schemes rem­i­nis­cent of Re­nais­sance paint­ing — in a weird sort of way. But for view­ers who might not get a par­tic­u­lar ref­er­ence to say, Las Men­i­nas (1656) by Diego Velázquez or the story of St. Casilde, a sig­nif­i­cant piece of the puz­zle to un­der­stand­ing Hasler’s aes­thetic is lost. Hasler’s nod to the his­tory of art is ap­pre­ci­ated, but too much of it runs the risk of be­com­ing shtick.

Speak­ing of Velázquez’s paint­ing, in Hasler’s ver­sion, called Por­trait With Hors d’Oeu­vres, she is in jumbo hair rollers stand­ing next to a shower cur­tain, not a can­vas as Velázquez had painted. A pal­ette in her right hand is filled with raw shrimp. In place of the young In­fanta Mar­garita in the 17th-cen­tury work, Hasler has sub­sti­tuted her son, who sits on the floor play­ing with a toy truck. And the mys­te­ri­ous gent in the back­ground of the Span­ish mas­ter’s paint­ing is re­placed in Hasler’s piece by her hus­band, who is jammin’ on a clar­inet. It’s fun and funny, but ...?

In an­other paint­ing, Flight, in which the setup should be more rec­og­niz­able to a larger au­di­ence, Hasler de­picts her­self atop a pony hold­ing her young daugh­ter on her lap with her hus­band stand­ing be­side them dressed ca­su­ally in a striped rugby shirt and jeans. Sit­ting sidesad­dle, Hasler, draped with a blue shawl, presents her­self as the Vir­gin Mary, while you can guess the roles of the other play­ers as the bib­li­cal story of the flight from Egypt gets a con­tem­po­rary makeover.

Hasler’s Flight is set in the front yard of the fam­ily’s ru­ral home out­side Fort Collins. But what makes this piece that much more cu­ri­ous is that in the back­ground closer to the house are, again, the artist’s daugh­ter and hus­band— not do­ing any­thing in par­tic­u­lar— plus the pony, unat­tended. The dou­ble por­traits of Hasler’s fam­ily mem­bers give the scene a time el­e­ment in which we are privy to what was go­ing on be­fore Hasler gath­ered every­one to­gether for the most im­me­di­ate seg­ment in the story line.

Por­trait as Trick Roper has a di­rect link to a sta­ple of art-his­tory cour­ses: the Mi­noan Snake God­dess (circa 1600 B.C.) from Crete, housed in the Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Mu­seum in Her­ak­leion. Like the small, an­cient fig­urine, Hasler dis­plays her­self hold­ing a snake in each hand and wear­ing a two­piece out­fit with belt. But there the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. Hasler is pack­ing a hol­stered six-shooter and is adorned with ex­tended white gloves, a red hal­ter top with pow­der-blue polka dots, a yel­low tutu, and cow­boy boots— not quite the proper at­tire for a god­dess. In ad­di­tion, the South­west­ern en­vi­ron­ment in which she is seen, with moun­tains, a river, and big sky, may have more to do with Hopi snake dancers than her Mi­noan an­ces­tor.

The added twist to Hasler’s self-por­trait is her air­borne, bal­letic pose as she hov­ers above the river. This el­e­vated, look-at-me pos­tur­ing is cen­tral to other Hasler paint­ings, in­clud­ing Casilde IV, in which she is again sus­pended in the air; Por­trait With Cousins and Birth­day IV, where the artist bal­ances on one foot on a chair; and Tea Party, which has her seated in a chair placed on top of a ta­ble hold­ing a baby à la Madonna and child.

Such sig­nif­i­cance put on the self may be prob­lem­atic for some view­ers. In all of her work, Hasler reigns supreme over ev­ery­body and ev­ery­thing in her com­po­si­tions. And soon enough, one ob­serves that her per­sona— a con­cen­trated fa­cial ex­pres­sion with pursed lips and out­ward gaze— is the same in each paint­ing, a look com­mon to ev­ery art stu­dent who has ever ren­dered him­self via a re­flec­tion in a mir­ror. She also presents her­self frontally in each paint­ing rather than from a va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives, giv­ing her pres­ence that much more weight, vis­ually and psy­cho­log­i­cally. Is Hasler more ego­cen­tric or want­ing of at­ten­tion than most artists? In the case of the many self-por­traits ex­e­cuted by Rem­brandt and van Gogh, eco­nomics rather than self-love dic­tated much of their sub­ject mat­ter— both died es­sen­tially broke. One can only spec­u­late on Hasler’s self-por­trai­ture.

Col­lec­tively, Hasler’s staged scenes— she’s been do­ing them at least since 2003— are both funny and odd, giv­ing a sur­re­al­is­tic edge of un­cer­tainty to the mean­ing of her im­agery. And in that vein, cou­pled with the fa­mil­ial con­text, Hasler’s painted tableaux are loaded— with what is not easy to pin down.

Ha­ley Hasler: Por­trait With Hors d’Oeu­vres, 2006, oil on linen, 46 x 40 inches

Flight, 2009, oil on can­vas, 50 x 60 inches

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