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