Gale Hart is a Sacramento-based artist/activist with a long and storied history of agitating on behalf of animal and human rights. She’s done this in a multitude of media and in various high-profile events, most notably the series of anti-circus shows in which she — and several hundred cohorts — employed highly sophisticated aesthetic strategies (within a wide range of mostly figurative painting styles) to expose the cruelties imposed on animals for human entertainment.
In this show of 20 new works (paintings and sculptures) at Solomon Dubnick through May 30, Hart expands her repertoire of seduce-and-clobber tactics. In the 10 acrylic-on-panel paintings that are the show’s focal point, Hart depicts events in which humans abuse animals and each other – but not always in ways that are overtly shocking. To feel their full effect you have to really look, and Hart makes sure you do. The strongest of these works depict unequal power relationships: A redneck threatens a gay man. A soldier points a rifle at a child. A stockyard worker prods the skeleton of a steer. The bejeweled head of a taxidermied deer stares back at us from a living room wall and so on. The figures are painted as silhouettes.
By themselves, they would not be all that unsettling were it not for the fact that Hart fills the interior space of each silhouette with lines, scrapings, textures, forms and washes that together, reference a variety of art-historical and graphic design styles without quoting any of them directly. You could argue that this Rauschenberg-like surface confusion obscures her intent, but I’d argue the opposite: that it’s the plastic activity within the figures that activates paintings like “Blinded for Your Good Looks”, “Self Defense”, “Brand Zero”, “Hunting Allowed”, and “Dead Before They’re Dead”. They do what good activist art is supposed to do, which is to use aesthetics to make a point.
Hart also, in this exhibit, extends her longstanding practice of furniture making; although in Hart’s case the label “furniture” may be a bit misleading since many of the objects seem to be as sculptural as they are functional.
Their support structures reference high modernists like sculptor David Smith. Their painted geometric shapes come straight out of Mondrian; and their deployment of industrial symbols, like the encircled capital letters seen on big rigs that haul toxic materials feels like a knowing wink at Deborah Oropallo.
You can sit on the sturdiest of them, and on the slenderest ones you can rest a can of beer; but chances are that neither you nor your drink will sit very comfortably.
Learn more about Gale Hart.