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Collages by Joyce Hill at North Tonawanda's Carnegie Art Center

Street Phantom

Like walking down any decaying urban street, the words jump off the wall—familiar, common, perverse, rude, instructive, in punctuation, questioning, exclamatory, and abruptly disorderly. It is as if walls are the tablets that carry the messages of the “dis”—dissolution, disease, disorientation, dissatisfaction, and disarray.

Joyce Hill’s collages hold the eye in squares of rigorous profusion in color, shape, and juxtaposition of layered images. It must be engaging to assemble from a confluence of life’s consciousness streams, a record of, in her words, “an emotional journey”—the tragic-comic, melodramatic, and ordinary pacific passage of street culture.

Hill has a sense of the sentimental, cartooned miseries and joys graphic art can convey; her view from a car fast passing or as a pedestrian voyeuristically probes the first tentative layers of urban chaos, playing at the photogenic margins of “city” while importuning the viewer’s responses with the grace of a greeting card.

However, the artist’s rendered slices of the built environment interfaced with repetitive imagery reveal her fixity in attitude. Hill is working in a photographic genre witnessed in some good measure for going on 50 years, at least since Ernst Haas began photographing torn billboards remaining anchored in the largely exocentric suburban reaction to urban (read inner city) culture, revulsion and fear mixed with mute fascination. As such her collages may function as visual bromides, restorative panaceas for aggravating first-world problems.

On occasion her work moves past graffito dabbed clichés, evoking viewer’s cajoled generosity of spirit to thoughtful, engaging art. The labor-intensive efforts mounted to create a dioramic street scene, especially the theatrical phone poles, strive to give the exhibit an air of greater complexity but seem the better part of simplicity, being the most genuine of “found” expression: the flimsy palimpsest of paper, such as a notice of a “lost unicorn,” taped to an upright, stationary object visible in the public thoroughfare. It is in these less embroidered aspects of her artistic enterprise that less is truly more, almost minimally conceptual compared to the sleekly framed wall pieces that make up the balance of the show.

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