The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Review

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

By Petra Bibeau August 12, 2015

In Carson McCullers’s 1940 debut novel, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the twenty-three-year-old author delved deep into the psyches of a cast of forlorn characters struggling to express the human condition through individual experiences. Taking a cue from McCullers’s work, Katy Grannan's curatorial effort at Fraenkel Gallery features eighteen artists who address similar themes through photography, painting, video, works on paper, and sculpture.

Like the novel, the expansive exhibition explores the deeper matters of interiority. Some of the more figurative work attempts to recontextualize a previous condition by way of revision. For example, Alice Wong bends reality by painting on found materials such as photographs and postcards, transforming the natural world into an alternate universe. David M. Stein modifies existing books in his Unlikely Library series (2008), creating purely imagined new titles—from the absurd to the mundane—that uncannily disappear into a normative context upon first glance. 

Bryson Rand, Mario & Danny (Los Angeles), 2015; Pigment print, edition of 5, 42 x 30 in. Courtesy of the artist and Fraenkel Gallery.
The exhibition’s photography selection is the strongest visual reference to its theme, evidenced in particular by the large-scale pigment print Untitled (2009), by Dru Donovan. In the image two simply dressed men flank a third, leaning in to kiss his neck, simultaneously pushing him into a state of suspended ecstasy. Using shadow and light, the photograph highlights the men’s precarious poses and creates the appearance of motion. Donovan uses the body to visually seize vulnerability, inviting the viewer into a moment of human desire and drawing a direct line to the singularity mentioned in Grannan’s curatorial foreword.
Further on in the exhibition, a selection of four pigment prints by Bryson Rand accesses a similar place but produces a different sensation. The lushness of Rand's captured environments manifests desire in visual form. As in Donovan’s Untitled, movement plays a role in these prints’ emotionalism, but they conversely use motion to capture a moment’s stillness. In Mario & Danny (Los Angeles) (2015) the viewer becomes a voyeur before a shirtless man with another man's hand in his mouth during the height of a sexual act. The close vantage point and anonymous hand puts the emphasis on the body and the singular moment rather than the overall act. Here the moment of desire is presented as larger than assumed prior or thereafter. 
Dru Donovan, Untitled, 2009; Pigment print, edition of 5, 41 1/2 x 51 1/2 in. Courtesy of the artist and Fraenkel Gallery.

A grouping of high-contrast pigment prints surrounding a wallpaper panel by Fumi Ishino offers a subtle visual dichotomy of meaning and singularity. The forms found in each print seem to melt away in relation to placement and color, inciting a play on Minimalism. Untitled (Yellow Room) (2014) features five main objects: a bright aqua lamp on an identically colored towel and a small photograph and a pink paper cutout affixed to the wall of a saturated yellow room with a bed the exact same shade of yellow. The angle of the photograph allows the objects to lose their individual qualities and relate to each other in a cosmic manner. The colorful items pull the eye into their orbit of relation, while the yellow of the room emphasizes the light. Suddenly, the off-centered angle of the photograph is irrelevant to the visual experience.

In the same way, Heather Rasmussen’s three pigment prints of curiously paired objects on an ambiguous scale invite viewers to insert their own interpretations. This openendedness suggests an emptiness of the initial forms, as well as a hollow relationship between them and the viewer. The mundane yet visually appealing Untitled (Hand and squash and nasturtiums) (2014) depicts an elongated, curved squash whose base is groped by a hand on top of a vintage nasturtium print background. The photograph feels purposely flat, having nowhere to go and nothing to do but wander on in its vacancy.

The exhibition moves from work with a direct narrative frame to more abstracted work by Judith Scott, Ying Gee Zhou, and Didier William. Figuratively emblematic, the ink and watercolor selections by Zhou correlate identity with redistributed forms through idealized surface expression. The grouping of eight drawings centers on color and aesthetic detail. For example, Zhou’s Untitled (Woman with Loop Hairdo) (2012) and Untitled (Red Cat) (2014) both feature relaxed depictions of their titles on an intriguing small scale, using color to focus on the details of the loose lines and exacting a soft, story-like interpretation.

Didier William, Sanitizing Sanity, 2013; Acrylic on wood panel, 48 x 2 x 38 in. Courtesy of the artist and Fraenkel Gallery.

Through paint-pouring and mark-making, William explores the fragmentation of figures in his acrylic paintings. In Sanitizing Sanity (2013) two vastly different-size hands are placed into what looks like a body of water. Through a glaze of white on the water’s surface, the hands look reflected and morphed. This distortion makes the painting feel surreal, while the strong hands simultaneously cause it to appear firmly rooted. William achieves an eerie effect through his abstract pouring of paint. The end result is a depth signifying an unyielding emotionalism and darkness that embodies the direction of the exhibition.

Benefitting from the large collection of participating artists, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter succeeds due to the selected artists’ compulsive desire to create their own narration from a point of obsession with being rather than from a literal rendition of living.

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The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is on view at Fraenkel Gallery, in San Francisco, through August 22, 2015.

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