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McLean Project for the Arts, "Postcards from the Real," Artworks by Josephine Haden, Emerson Gallery, September 20 - November 3, 2007.

I n t r o d u c t i o n  b y  N a n c y  S a u s s e r

It has been a while since Northern Virginia artist Josephine Haden has mounted a major exhibition in the Washington D.C. area.  A former Gallery K artist, she continues to paint steadily and exhibit extensively, mostly in Florida, New York and on the international art fair circuit.  An occasional solitary work has shown up in juried or invitational exhibits around town of course, just enough to let us know she’s still here, working, moving forward, exploring new ideas.  It is now our pleasure at McLean Project for the Arts to offer this exhibition, which covers her most recent series of works spanning from 2003 through the present.

Haden sometimes calls this series “Globalization” after one of the most quintessential paintings in the group.  Not meant in the political sense, the word can be understood to refer to her “everything’s fair game” approach to composing a painting.  All of these works are built around the same basic bone-structure – a vast open landscape of earth and sky, and a lot of water peppered with characters and objects pulled from popular and contemporary culture.  In this way Haden presents open-ended vignettes or allegories that toy with stereotypical assumptions and cultural constructs even as they both delight and confound the viewer with their strange and curious groupings.  There are many stories depicted in these paintings.  While most are not fully fleshed out, they nonetheless gently pull the viewer into their own orbit as they mirror the random and often incomprehensible nature of creative thought, or as Haden describes it, ‘the pleasure of imagination in action.”

In a subtle but efficient effort to keep the viewer slightly off-kilt, Haden uses many compositional devices to play with perceptual expectations.  She deals fast and loose, for instance, with the ordinary rules of perspective and scale so that the size of objects and figures do not always jibe with their placement in the landscape.  Volume, soaring depth and sudden flatness appear and disappear randomly.  This spatial playfulness is coupled with an on/off approach to color, with some images rendered fully in vibrant hues and others reduced to grey, ashen depictions.  As viewers, we recognize these perceptual devices as clues to emphasis and meaning, yet we are left perplexed by the specifics, slightly dizzy.  Haden has us exactly where she wants us – puzzled but paying attention.

Haden is a tremendously prolific artist, producing an astounding number of canvases each year.  This has the happy consequence of allowing her to fully explore concepts and techniques before they naturally glide into their next incarnation.  In this exhibit Haden moves through magazine, vacation, and animal imagery and then on to stereotypical depictions of the old west.  At the same time the colors in the paintings progress from primarily blue and green to brown, purple and gold.  There is something logical in the way each painting moves forward, carrying images familiar from the last work on into the next.  This thoroughness benefits both artist and viewer, emphasizing certain thoughts and ideas and developing what is in essence an idiosyncratic visual language.  But in the end the specifics of understanding are elusive, just as Haden intends.  Her paintings are as mysterious and random as dreams, as blatantly banal as People Magazine or Barbie and Ken, and as lofty as legends.  Enjoy them as a journey whose one true and final destination will always be the journey itself.

Nancy Sausser, Curator, is Exhibitions Director, McLean Project for the Arts.

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