BEYOND THE MARGINAL
PRINTMAKER BAY HALLOWELL WORKS AT THE JUNCTURE OF TEXT, GRAPHIC DESIGN AND MANIPULATIONS IN THE MARGINS, IN HER FAULKNER SHOW ‘MARGINALIA’
By Josef Woodard
Photos by Wayne McCall
Printmaker Bay Hallowell often seems to surf around available and accidental influences and idea-triggers, which may give rise to a new series of expressions. Such is the case in her deceptively simple and enigmatic exhibition called “Marginalia,” now aptly nestled in the cozy nook of the Faulkner West Gallery at the downtown public library.
In that small, long room, the artist can be found experimenting and improvising, visually mumbling and snooping in the margins of a good idea, shuffling letters and linguistic meanings, and generally ferreting out the theme of the very word of the show’s title. Using monoprints and stencils, collographs and other media, she stacks the letters and reorders them, scruffs them up, leaves them polished or affects them with sundry printmaking techniques. But whatever the variation or accentuation of each piece, “Marginalia” is the word in the epicenter of this artist’s playful arena.
Artists have long been fascinated by the power of select words and phrases, fodder for treatments and distortions in a more visual than language-related way. Ed Ruscha has made a career out of painted, loaded words on canvas, and Jim Dine has found himself in love (ironically and otherwise) with the word—and heart-shaped symbol for—“love.” Deeper in art history, Bauhaus design notions explored the expressive potential of letters and Kurt Schwitters and other Dadaists and deconstructionist types have latched onto language for reuse and recycling in their artistic language.
In this case, Ms. Hallowell has a ripe word to mess around with, as visual putty, having to do with the digressionistic scribblings in the margins of a text, or the quality of that which is presumably “marginal,” but possibly a case of profundity in the periphery.
By virtue of the artist honing in on a very specific thematic target for her “variations on a theme” series, the word itself becomes a hypnotic blur. Following the progression and sequence of pieces, especially in those numbered 1 to 16, we intuitively sense a kind of quasi-narrative flow, through the investigations and reinventions. No. 10 has a dreamy, liquid-y overlay, while 12 finds the letters subjected to a mad scramble and fragmentation effect, rendered nearly illegible except as pure design, and 16 pits the word—in an early 20th century, Art Deco font—sandwiched between a warm yellow-orange-green foundation and the random ratatat of black dot-splatters on the surface.
Other later variations continue the process of plumbing expressive possibilities within the artist’s self-limited source. In a few pieces, commercial letters are placed in a hip pattern with a shambling, tumbling charm a la Mr. Schwitters’ “Merz” aesthetic. As if capping off the series with a ghostly echo of a finale, “Marginalia Trace 1, 2, 3” consists of the hand-scrawled word in positive and negative forms, suggesting a palimpsest-like hint of archeological enigma. Marginalia rarely seemed so centered, and curiosity inflaming.
July 11 – July 17, 2014
Santa Barbara News-Press, Scene Magazine (p. 51)