EJ Hauser ME + YOU
Regina Rex | February 26 – April 2, 2017
Chris Martin has a simple assignment for artists: keep a sketchbook, don’t show it to anyone, draw in it every day. But, like calisthenics, the simplest task, requiring no special equipment or expertise, can prove to be the most challenging. EJ Hauser adopted this program after meeting Martin in 2007: yet when she expanded her studio, moving to Sunset Park in 2008, she started from scratch, beginning anew after over a decade of painting since earning her MFA, with “drawing labs.” The superpages drawings (2008 – 12) are gouache, oil paint, oil pastel, and Magic Marker—whatever’s handy—on the pages of a phone book, or the Times. They were a prep tool, a part of the process for Hauser’s other work.
Since 2012, Hauser has developed the drawings on blank newsprint. Sometimes, they’re pieced together into more complicated arrangements. They were in Amphibian, her first New York solo in many years, which opened in November 2015, also at Regina Rex. The newsprint curls and sags under the weight of her materials, as in blue me + you (2016). Though Hauser has a range of touch, she presses into the paper with a weight reminiscent of intaglio. The present exhibition expands on her 2015 show.
The most successful, enigmatic results of these experiments are selected from arrangements on her studio wall; the process represents weeks and months of looking. the original me + you (2017) appears here as a small red canvas bears, the words “ME,” “YOU,” and a diagram that connects them in bright blue. Almost two years later, its composition hasn’t changed from the drawing we found in Amphibian. Hauser methodically constructs her paintings. Though simple and graphic, they resist a quick read: layers of information, revisions, and a dizzying variety of formal tools, including paint viscosity, a range of painting speeds, and Hauser’s ability to stop at the crucial moment just as the image comes to fruition, all complicate her paintings’ apparently straightforward compositions.
Each exhibition presents a taxonomy of images. crown mountain tunnel (2017), repeats the title of the painting three times across a blue ground stained with white erasure. Totems include “lookers” (monolithic heads), and “smilers,” (happy gravestones, presented here in a family group). Poem-like texts and self-invented symbols are deployed interchangeably.
Hauser builds her paintings with signature short, staccato brush marks, which serve as building blocks. Repetition and recreation of the same image yields minute, almost indescribable variation. The process recalls the disintegration of passing an image, over and over, through a Xerox machine.
She paints and repaints, like Clyfford Still, who often remade his works.1 Hauser sometimes numbers her works in their titles. “The original,” “first,” and even “last,” almost like a print edition. Hauser’s project is akin to Philip Guston’s, painting and repainting his hooded characters.
In her 1977 text on feminism and abstract art, Harmony Hammond wrote on female artists who use craft: “Such works are daily records of thoughts and are used as such by the artists. Just as the weaver continues from day to day, from one physical and psychic location to another, materials and dyes changing slightly, irregularities and tensions showing, the painted marks also reveal daily emotional changes and tensions. They are a record of present feeling, a ritual giving in to the repetitive gesture, a language to reveal itself—a woman’s mantra.”2 Hauser labors in the studio, painting and repainting approximately the same images. She uses lines of individual marks, like a sewing machine: Penelope bent to her loom.
Walt Whitman (2012), which is also exhibited at Regina Rex, is little more than a quick oil sketch on a five-foot square gessoed canvas. Its speed was the breakthrough for Hauser. Now the paintings vary widely. In big looker (2016), the pink ground is meticulously painted around the knot of transparent blue marks constructing the volume of the head. In comparison, real looker (2016), the black marks constructing the head are inscribed on a pale yellow ground. A sweet little canvas, imagining delphi (2016), is a one-shot painted into the wet gold ground. Hauser told me that there are twelve paintings underneath this final result. What appears so effortless comes at its own cost.
In the past two years, fields of flat, hi-fi color have replaced blank canvas and chine collé paper grounds. “I turned to painting from sculpture to find out more about color,” Hauser told me. As we see with the “smilers,” changing the painting impacts the read of the work. Making multiples of the same image in variation, Hauser underscores how the way a painting is made impacts its read. Hauser’s experiments in the studio underscore the relationship between the thing (artwork) and the looker (artist or viewer). Between me and you.
- “Making additional versions is an act I consider necessary when I believe the importance of the idea or break-through merits survival on more than one stretch of canvas.” – Clyfford Still
- Hammond, Harmony. “Feminist Abstract Art — A Political Viewpoint.” Heresies: A Feminist Publication on Art and Politics 1, No. 1, January 1977, 68.
STEPHEN TRUAX is an artist and writer in New York.