Apr 012008

I believe that a painter’s readiness to step beyond the generally conventional subject matter into revealing and intimate themes marks her as a daring artist willing to take serious risks. But not only: in such cases art transcends to a medium of protest, of defiance, of radical and even desperate statements that wish to change, shock, and shake things — and no less significant is the sense that the artist is willing to take responsibility for the consequences, whatever they may be. In other words, it is often the artist’s will to sacrifice which distinguishes her as “important.” And in today’s art scene it may not be easy to recognize a true sacrifice.

bath curtain portrait

What makes it easy in Heather Horton’s case is the consistency and continuous scrutiny of similar themes with increasingly complicated and changing conditions. She makes her own path; it winds between splashing femininity and aloof introspection, and moves forward with quiet but forceful independence. Her portrait scenes challenge the audience, saying “I’m here — and you may watch me” but then they also defy it, adding “I will continue to be here, whether you watch me or not.” I tend to regard this slightly irreverent, openly self-centered attitude as a sign of a consummate artistic credo that has experiences to share and deserves to be listened to — or to be watched.

bath tub legs wall

Although the people portrayed on these pieces are engaged in the process of cleaning, the symbolical hidden motif of cleansing soon overpowers the former. The creative act of painterly recording followed by the artistic act of exposure of the final result — the painting — induces the transition to spiritual (not necessarily religious) and allegorical spheres. This is, in a way, a private sanctification. It is interesting to observe (perhaps not without some voyeurism) the individual struggle in the process: the plastic curtain and the water in the tub serve as the last, transparent, and seemingly dissolving screen between the beholder and the depicted persona, who anguishes over the dissolving. The compositional device of separating the viewer from the model exerts a stealthy dramatic effect.

 woman bath shower washing curtain

Despite the struggle, the intention of the model (or the artist, or both) is made evident by that same screen — its lucidity implies the desire to appear before the audience in a spiritually transparent manner, as if with a naked soul. We are gently reminded of the sacrifice, and at this moment begin to empathize — it was, after all, offered up for the audience’s sake and on its behalf. It is difficult to pinpoint whether the artist redefines the ritual of baptism and absorbs it on her own terms, or subverts (especially in the inverted bathtub piece) the sacred element with the purpose of focusing on the mundane as the real alternative. Either interpretation has its merits and is hard to ignore… The sacrifice, however, may be rejected — but this is one of the risks the artist was willing to take.

Leave a Reply