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Donnor and Robert Hirsh at CEPA Gallery

left: Donnor's show is at CEPA until April 30; right: A Robert Hirsh evocation of 1960s imagery.

From a Little Room to the 1960s

Upstairs at the CEPA galleries are mono-denominated artist Donnor’s hauntingly beautiful photos of a variety of subject matters in a variety of idiosyncratic styles and treatments. Downstairs is Robert Hirsh’s collection of photos and other memorabilia of the turning-point decade of recent American history, the 1960s.

Donnor’s show is called When in My Little Room, and his works fall into several categories. First is a series of nubilia photos of a model or models in a rural to sylvan setting in winter sans creature comforts except for the outdoor hot tub, all in all reminiscent of a type of carefully-planned-to-look-unplanned fashion photos, eye-catching for the beauty of the models and the unusual, remote locale.

Next, a stunning series of dream imagery photos, surreal, enigmatic, and in and out of focus, and all in all often hard to forget. Such as the picture of the white horse and young girl in a field in the rain, the horse looking straight at the camera, the girl out of focus looking up, at the dismal sky.

Or the one of the black dog routing around in the middle distance of an unkempt alley bordered on one side by an irregular series of makeshift and unpainted board fences and everything a little out of focus.

These photos are large-format and usually unframed except by the charred border around the white border around the image area. Moreover, they are said to be encaustic-finished, indicating not encaustic in the usual sense of mix of paint and wax, but rather the photos are coated over with clear wax, providing some of the same effect as regular encaustic—the sensuous surface, perpetually invitingly tactile, perpetually vulnerable to alteration by touch. A sense of softness, a sense of fragility.

Another set of encaustic-finished works suggest night sky astronomical views, one with an array of conventional—that is, five-pointed—star shapes against the black background, the other with scratch patterns in lines and circles suggesting planetary orbits or perhaps time-lapse sky photos. Or perhaps—to change the reference from astronomy to even more basic physics—cloud chamber “instantaneous” events that are actually time-lapse events caught by the photographic apparatus as instantaneous.

Another area of this photo presents what could be the corona of a total eclipse of the moon, or the ring a wet glass makes on the surface of a desk.

Not so enigmatic is a set of portraits of a spectrum of American types in terms of politics and psychology. Extreme in both categories is the wannabe Nazi storm trooper. Other works in this series show what appear to be much more benign and palatable forms of craziness.

Robert Hirsh’s show is called The Sixties Cubed and consists of a few hundred cliché images from the 1960s displayed in clear plastic cubes. Nixon, Kennedy, Dallas, Joan Baez, the Beatles, Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove, Janet Leigh from Psycho, Dustin Hoffman from The Graduate, the Keep on Truckin’ guy, Vietnam, protest, Woodstock.

And my personal favorite iconic image from the 1960s, Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the Mexican Olympics, on the podium after the 200-meter run, Smith having won gold, Carlos bronze, each with one arm raised and black-gloved fist—Smith the right arm, Carlos the left, so that they were only out the price of one pair of black gloves—in a gesture that was immediately understood in the context to be a statement against racism and civil rights injustice in the United States and anywhere else and tangentially related to rhetoric about black power that was batting around at the time. Which outraged the Olympic Committee, which interpreted the gesture simply as black power’s gonna get your momma. Smith and Carlos were immediately sent home and banned for life from competing in further Olympic games.

Also on display is a manikin covered with slogan buttons from the era. Such representative slogans as “Stamp out reality,” and “All you need is love,” and “Chicken Little was right.” They were right about the last one, at least. Don’t forget the sunscreen.

The Robert Hirsch and Donnor exhibits continue through April 30.

jack foran

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