For artist Holly Lee, many of the works featured in her new solo exhibition at the Hunterdon Art Museum hold a special significance.
When I arrived in Taos, New Mexico for my first fellowship at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, I had never worked with landscape. I had been focused on a series of working photographs and drawings called the Medusa Portraits which explore aspects of the “feminine” in relation to aging and the association of the “feminine” in Western philosophy and culture to earth and decay, even while it also has clear biological connections to birth and life. As I hiked the high desert in Taos, I was struck by the power of the New Mexican landscape and I decided to begin a parallel series incorporating ideas from the Medusa Portraits while working with landscape.
And, so, as I wandered the trails around Taos, I found myself turning my gaze downward towards the earth, drawn to the eroding sagebrush, weeds, and parched soil of the high desert floor and focusing on mundane spaces rather than grand vistas and sublime sunsets. These “humble” scenes reference decay as well as regeneration and mark the day-to-day erosion of a materiality bound by time, the “sublime” they explore is one tempered by the abject.
The serpentine forms embody the entropic process, capturing the transition from a state of growth to one of dissolution, and yet I find their dis-order, their decline, to be filled with movement, pattern, grace, and beauty, much like my aging body.
I photograph the plants, creating “panoramic” views of the desert floor. Later, working from the photographs in my studio, I draw the organic systems, exploring tensions between pattern and complexity, beauty and chaos.
The compositions are de-centered and claustrophobic: it’s difficult for the eyes to find a place to rest. These uncomfortable spaces are carefully rendered, though, creating simultaneous feelings of attraction and repulsion. My experience of aging is complex and filled with contradictions: age has brought not only knowledge and power, but fragility and loss – and these landscapes reflect that.
-Cristina de Gennaro