CHRISTINA HALE

by Bill Lasarow

(Robert Berman Gallery, Santa Monica) It is unusual when a young artist chooses to hint at what might be coming up the road rather than display all of their cards. A natural tendency is to use the gallery as a platform to prove to us what they can do, and pack in as much of what they have to say as they can. As though this will be not only the first, but the only opportunity to make their voice heard.

There is also the problem of flawed or hidden skills, suggesting either a lack of technique or an aesthetic direction chosen to disregard them.

With these points in mind Christina Hale immediately leaves a positive impression. For this, her first, solo exhibition the entire show consists of pencil drawings on paper. The 40-inch sheets curl around push pins that tack the pictures to the walls. She obviously doesn't need to shoot the works the first time out.

Then there is the draftsmanship, which is something of a throwback style to the kind of baroque-modernist expressionism associated with Rico Lebrun or John Altoon. Line and tone are pushed around with something between an emotive charge and an all-out frenzy. Marks wrap around the figures and forms, which emerge into palpable physicality. The residue of the artist's hand and decision-making is left in, but the graphic quality is convincing enough to translate into sort of an underground comix look for the '90s.

These drawings distance themselves from a strain of comix-related gallery art that has been around over the last decade. Most of it has been intentionally derivative or wan in quoting its source, relying on literary or philosophical content to carry the weight. Another strain merged directly out of the underground comix artists themselves, upping the ante of the original material while standing defiantly against the intellectuality of avant gardism.
Hale's images are too robust to fit comfortably with the former, and too embryonic as storyboard narratives to align with the latter. They could serve as a jumping-off point to her own graphic story-telling, but will certainly be of greater interest if she is more interested in making more imaginative leaps with the "how" and "why" of her imagemaking then telling stylishly illustrated graphic stories. This would also deprive Hale of the graphic reference points that help make these drawings intriguing and engaging. Seeds of the consequences of such decisions are already sprouting within these early works.

For example, there is a predatory give-and-take running through the various figures Hale depicts. The air of urban decay is very much a popular cinematic vision, and many of these figures could be rehersals for the kind of despicable but hip characters that have a kind of swaggering appeal. From the point of view of an illustrator, it would be very important to work on the clarity and appeal of these figures. The goal would be to develop characters which can hold an audience that will demand that character be redrawn over and over again. This can be of no concern to an artist, who must be driven by a personal response to the form and content. There are interesting characters and situations presented here, certainly, but that is not the substance of the art. That is carried by the pictures themselves, and this series, collectively titled Westside Prostitution, embodies the kind of brashness and fearlessness that one always hopes to see among new talent, but which is not seen nearly enough and most assuredly cannot be taught.

With no prior history such a speculation is not an idle reflection of the distinction between gallery art and commercial illustration, but a cautions endorsement of a promising artist's initial impression.


Anti-Fashion," graphite on
paper, 42 x 39", 1997.



"Medicine," graphite on
paper, 42 x 39", 1997.



"Untitled," graphite on
paper, 42 x 39", 1997.

 


"Untitled," graphite on
paper, 42 x 39", 1997.