By Michaël Amy
Colossi are endlessly fascinating. They were produced in antiquity and revived as a form during the Renaissance. Little wonder that 20th-century totalitarian regimes were eager to have them made, for they speak of Empire. Colossi can infuse us with awe and excitement on way other two-and three-dimensional cannot, making us deeply aware of our diminutive scale. In such works, we see the forms we know as magnified beyond our expectations and thus transformed.
Gwen Hardie’s recent suite of three large paintings (oil on canvas, 2004 or 2005) do not express brute force in the way, say, that the fourth century colossal statue of Constantine the Great in Rome does. The artist obtains striking results by rendering the details of the face in isolation and blowing them up in scale, creating “fragments” that perhaps allude to the Constantine as we find it today. Yet Hardie’s painted images have soft blurry contours bringing to mind atmospheric effects in works by Leonardo. Significantly, too, Hardie has learned from Velázquez in her effective recording of optical sensations.
In this exhibition, it was the artists own dramatically cropped features that filled the frame. Using mirror and natural light, Hardie paints one area of her face in a single day, swiftly and with detachment, as if it were a landscape to which she has no relationship. If the painting fails to meet her standards, as often happens, she wipes it out with turpentine and starts all over again.
Gwen Hardie | Face 03.24.05, 2005 | Oil on canvas | 74 x 70 inches