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"Hannah Barrett and Henry Samelson"
2000-12-20 until 2001-01-21
Gallery at Green Street
Boston, MA, USA United States of America

Henry Samelson and Hannah Barrett, both of Jamaica Plain, explore two very different approaches to figuration and color in this thought provoking exhibit of recent paintings. Bostons Subway gallery brings contemporary art to everyone. Located in the Green Street MBTA station, this innovative, artist-funded and artist-run gallery is in its third year of free monthly exhibits. Top quality, cutting edge contemporary art is exhibited at street level, featuring local and regional artists, both emerging and well established.

Henry Samelsons series of large canvases, each at least four feet square, has an overall effect that is quite different from the individual personality of each work. The flat, unmodulated background colors, a different hue in each work, form a kind of color chart for contemporary decorative trends. There is a Martha Stewart or Ralph Lauren feel to the harmonious range of deep reds, hot pinks, bright yellows and acid greens that is balanced with warm browns and soft grays. The expanses of color set the stage for Samelsons humorous cast of characters: tightly rendered people, animals, insects, odd cartoon objects, painterly areas of expressive brushwork, and anthropomorphic bulging shapes. The exquisite and restrained compositions Samelson creates feel intimate against the buzzing sea of color. The small scale of the details draws a viewer close to the surface of each piece while the silly, profane and irreconcilable are placed together in an interdependent world that begs for a narrative that only Dr. Seuss could provide. Samelson convinces us to suspend disbelief...for a moment or two...and wander around in the strange world of these extraordinary works.

Hannah Barrett plays down color in her work and focuses intensely on the identity of her subjects in these oil on canvas paintings. Or, more precisely, the combinations of people that end up as her subjects. Barrett combines her mother and father by morphing the faces of each of them into a single face, strangely believable, that is composed of the top half of one parent and the bottom half of the other (give or take a swapped nose or hairline here and there). Barrett varies the scale of the halves in some works to make the result even weirder and matches them perfectly in other works that feature two figures side by side. The works that employ scale changes to create fun-house-mirror-like pin-heads and elves are hilarious but also too real somehow. Barrett often uses the tone of the background to mark where the change from one half to the other takes place, but the skill of the brushwork in the faces keeps the two halves inseparable. Once one gets past the humor and fascination with the composition of these morphed figures, the issues deepen to touch on more scientific and social concepts. The work touches on breeding, parenting, and the interesting gender and orientation issues that produce very different results in siblings from the same two parents.

IMAGE:
Henry Samelson
Unnatural Act (2000)
oil and latex on canvas


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