Strange Surroundings

Hartnett Art Gallery will be holding its “Strange Surroundings” exhibit until Oct. 5.

If you happen to pass by Hartnett Gallery right now, you can’t help but stop and stare at the massive artwork hanging across the entrance. It’s not even the size that stops you – it’s the dense mass of colors, textures, and shapes that make you gape in awe. That installation piece is the main feature of this year’s first exhibition “Strange Surroundings”, featuring work by Resa Blatman. Taking advantage of a variety of materials, Blatman creates complicated artwork that comments on the impact that humans have made on the environment. Blatman received her BFA in graphic design from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design in 1995 and taught graphic design there from 1997 to 2012. She returned to school to receive her MFA in painting from Boston University in 2006. Since then, she has shown her work in various independent and university galleries.

Elements of nature are constant in Blatman’s work because of her concern for the environment and the effects of global warming. Also appearing in most of her pieces are baroque arabesques swirling throughout compositions both large and small. She attributes this feature to her upholsterer father who let her play among his multitude of fabrics as a child. Her work entered its mature phase when she combined her passion for both graphic design and painting, incorporating digitally composed Mylar cutouts into and around her paintings.

The installation “Gaia, part 1”, showcases her increased design skills, containing laser-cut and hand-cut pieces of Mylar, PVC, and PETG. On them, she has added oil paint, latex, glitter, and plastic flowers to create a visually stunning work. She layers all of these pieces to create an undulating flow of plants, animals, and swirling curlicues that spans the Hartnett wall: seaweed hangs in the air, jellyfish shimmer in the light, and flowers float away in the breeze. Dirtying this exuberant wildlife is an oil spill of black latex that oozes down the wall, pooling on the floor.

“Gaia” is a commentary on the Gaia theory, which posits that organisms interact and can eventually adapt to their inorganic environment. This leads to the understanding that, although humans may not survive the climate change crisis, life will continue, maybe in unrecognizable forms. The man-made materials Blatman uses to represent animals illustrate this sense of living creatures adapting to harsh conditions. The myriad layers symbolize this new world that has adjusted to the remnants of humanity.

The exhibition also features paintings, such as the polyptych “In Memoriam”, four paintings of glaciers mounted on PVC, laser-cut into floral patterns. The diamond arrangement leaves the center empty, a void where something heavy used to sit. The cool and dark colors of the paint evoke a melancholy calm. Really, the work is a eulogy to the arctic ice that is quickly disappearing. Six pieces from the series “The Unfrozen North” hang opposite the installation. These paintings feature small birds in cold climates, representing the unusual environments that will come about with global warming. Unfortunately, the paintings’ simplicity leaves the viewer wanting a little gesture of the abstraction in “Gaia”.“Strange Surroundings” is truly a feast for the eyes. The massive “Gaia” proves to be more interesting at every moment, revealing something new to please the eye in every dense layer. The quiet paintings balance out the installation and give visitors a moment to rest and contemplate Blatman’s message. She combines modern-day materials and techniques to create visually sensuous works that send an important message about the effects of man-made climate change. Like the Earth itself, “Gaia, part 1” will grow and adapt to new galleries after it leaves Rochester, as will the rest of Blatman’s critical work.

“Strange Surroundings” runs through Sunday, October 5th.

  Libbey is a member of 

the class of 2016.


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