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Mary Hambleton

Mary Hambleton’s large paintings on panel at Littlejohn strive after complexity but attain only earnest enthusiasm. The artist attempts a wide-ranging experiment with palette, mark, and surface in these paintings, yet her enthusiasm prevails in prioritizing among her formal experiments. As a result, those experiments rarely cohere into a pictorial unity— the painting’s surfaces remain in agitated isolation from one another.

Hambleton favors a rectilinear understructure, usually horizontal, upon which she improvises with small clusters of colored dots reminiscent of Gustav Klimt. Wavy patterns make an understated entrance, presumably made by dragging some pronged instrument through the paint. This transpires over the washy grounds against which Hambleton enacts her colorful performances. She often adds textured and monochrome panels to the sides or bottoms of her roughly square paintings, and further complicates matters by affixing colorful geometric forms to their tops. These forms highlight the work’s clunky eclecticism.

In the main gallery three small drawings are almost hidden just to the left as you enter. "Mirus," "Untitled 2," and "Five Yellow Dots" show a delicate yet insistent stippling of dots more reminiscent of Kusama than Klimt. In these drawings, Hambleton combines charcoal, acrylic, shellac, and oil with an elegance that reveals her gifts as a designer. A small self-portrait just next to the drawings also shows promise. In it, the dark repeated form of a standing figure, presumably the artist, is ominously buried behind the omnipresent horizontal lines. In this case, the bright cones and cubes atop the piece balance nicely the dark feel of its subject matter.

On one wall in Littlejohn’s project room, an over-hung salon-style installation of twenty-four small works mixes drawings with paintings. A Plexiglas box of wound colored tape balls (a sculpture?) sits inexplicable in a corner. The small paintings attempt to juggle different styles, this time adding surrealist-like imagery. Once again, the drawings have the upper hand. One untitled abstract work buried in the assortment makes use of the same unlikely materials as other drawings, but achieves an equilibrium and volume reminiscent of an Ingres portrait drawing. In his pencil portrait of Paganini, Ingres uses minimal means to produce a work of stunning complexity. Similarly this small piece by Hambleton is complete in its economy of means. It is also complex in its associations while avoiding the miasma of fragments into which most of the artist’s large panels fall. Hambleton’s drawings reveal that, given her working methods, less is more.


Ben La Rocco


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2004

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