Friday, 8 July 2011

A Feast for the Mind - Hilary Jack

Hilary Jack’s art has been brought my attention through her current exhibit ‘And Scent of Pine and the Woodthrust Singing,’ in Manchester. These installations in Castlefields Gallery, compose a narrative are the best of Britain’s woodland creators and wildlife, wittily composed in 3D collage. A favourite of mine is 'Almost Sleeping Fox', which epitomises traditional British taste. On a floral settee (that reeks of my Grandmother), a pre-raphaelitic redhead dozes. She’s nestled within a bed of wild, waterside foliage, that screams of the foxy Elizabeth Siddal bathing as for Millais’ ‘Ophelia.’

Her tongue and cheek pieces could quite easily be a parody of ‘The Wind and the Willows’. The conscious titling of the exhibition to include the phrase ‘a scent of pine’ draws attention to the knowledge that pine evokes memory. These sculptures are nostalgic of a childhood spent in books about talking animals, but in light-hearted humour we are prompted to the absurdity of that thing we once so believed in.

Jack combines taxidermy, throw-away materials, and rejected old furniture into sometimes sinister, but mostly whimsical sculpture-come-installation. Quite sinister, I’d like to rename the piece ‘Stag Woman in a Blue Dress Holds Yellow Flowers’, ‘Evil Eyes.’ - The sloping stag horns, leaning neck and lifted dress are all uncomfortably on the lurk. Paradoxically ‘Women with Sage Bush Hair’ is only comic, and could quite easily be a reinvention of Wuthering Heights. An agreeable and temperate [ceramic] lady carries her basket across the windy moor, where her hair, blown about by the strength of the gust, becomes conditioned to brittle. Though the ceramic somewhat places it within a time of England past (when village-life ruled), the unruly windswept hair is as true to Bridget Jones, and so to us, as it is to Wuthering Heights.

While I’m not suggesting that the artist’s work relies on these associations, certainly an atmosphere of Britishness, and of a society ridding themselves of old possessions and memories, is at the core of these recycled composites. Jack transforms things of no use to things of vital purpose within the new creation. And the result is witty, and most of the time, attractive.

Catch Hilary Jack at Castlefields art gallery in Manchester, before 24 June

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