Thursday 26 January 2012

CHRIS HIPKISS AND ROBYN O'NEIL Kohler Arts Center, Sheboygan (WI) January 22–April 29

Robyn O’Neil (CA) creates sweeping narrative drawings in graphite on a large scale—some as large as five feet tall by fourteen feet wide. For eight years, O'Neil developed a narrative series of drawings depicting an epic drama of weather, wildlife, and the human race.

Each installment follows an environment in flux, navigated by tribes of men in sweat suits and white tennis shoes struggling to survive against dominant natural forces. Meant to represent the everyman, these figures appear woefully out of place in their overwhelming and raw environment. Throughout the series, O’Neil suggests that their survival is questionable. Over the course of this entire account, her drawing techniques stretch and weave in response to the changing moods in each scene, from the high-contrast, hard-lined snowscapes of the earlier works to the smudgy overcast skies and murky seas in later works.

Chris Hipkiss, a British artist living in France, also works in graphite and makes large-scale, incredibly intricate images of a barely recognizable future world. For several decades, Hipkiss has been developing an epic tale in which mutated humans negotiate a threatening and unruly—and equally mutated—landscape. In contrast to O’Neil’s remote and barren corners of the planet, Hipkiss focuses on cultivated gardens and cityscapes that appear to grow out of control in spite of their seemingly rigid structures. While O'Neil’s protagonists are track-suited men, Hipkiss's scenes are dominated by androgynes attempting to control, survive, and sometimes merge with their surroundings.

Both artists’ work—the tri-paneled scenes by O’Neil and the vast scrolls by Hipkiss that stretch up to 35 feet—recall the layered narratives and complex landscapes of Northern Renaissance painters Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Brueghel the Elder. Similarly depicting roiling events of biblical proportions, Hipkiss and O’Neil allude to contemporary feelings of alienation and unease over a rapidly changing and increasingly volatile environment through the perilous scenarios they illustrate.

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