Art review: The figure and landscape ripe for existential musing in group show


What could be better than an exhibition that provokes a mixture of discomfort, titillation and amusement? “Easy Air” at Hathaway Contemporary Gallery offers all three, along with a whiff of melancholy at the sad, fragile state of human affairs.

Hathaway on the booming Westside has launched some memorable shows and a fair number of meh ones, too. Luckily, “Easy Air” featuring three regional artists — Christina A. West (Atlanta), Scott Ingram (Atlanta) and Ridley Howard (Athens/Brooklyn) — is more peak than valley, top-loaded with great work, especially from local phenomenon West, whose naked and afraid figures invite both curiosity and revulsion. Sprinkled throughout the gallery space like arsenic-laced jimmies, West’s alabaster white figures are a jolting surprise. A female figure in “Untitled (Small Female Turning Head)” peels off her panties in perhaps the least erotic instance of that gesture, her expression furtive, her body heaving out of the confines of her clothes.

Unmasked in every sense, West’s sad sack figures, which are just small enough to be easily studied, but too big to cuddle, are large enough to move the uncanny meter from adorable to icky. They make you feel both giant and judge-y, lording over their naked vulnerability. But you may also feel pity for them; they’re like a dying bug you’ve just bathed in a spray of Raid.

We’re a culture wallpapered with images of naked bodies, but West’s work still has the power to shock. Her nudes are startling in their honesty, with fat rolls, bald heads, sad little organs and a look on their faces that’s anything but come hither. Rendered in white painted aqua resin, they’re like mannequins modeling — instead of Marc Jacobs — the pathos of the human condition. With their faces pressed to walls Peeping Tom style, or cowering naked in corners, her figures represent the full flower of human shame, alienation and embarrassment.

Lest we think of ourselves as somehow outside of West’s spider trap, in “Untitled (Reclining Male),” West has set up a wall between us and one of her sculptures of a splayed man backed into a corner. You can peer through little windows cut in the wall at the man’s distress. But West has also set up a series of mirrors, so that your gaze can also be met with your own grubby face trying to cop a view. A sinister exegesis on the thrill and shock of looking, West’s pervy and smart work is the star of this show.

“Easy Air” could be described as a statement on our present state of being, on a vulnerability and neurosis that permeates both human relationships and even our modern landscape. Human drama registers as small and fragile next to the heaving earth and penetrating rebar in Scott Ingram’s work. Ingram has had a long interest in the collision between architecture and painting, and here he combines those conjoined loves in sculpture and installation that remake the world in gesso and drywall.

His paintings look like a cross between minimalist painting and freshly spackled new construction. In the past, Ingram has skewered whole buildings like shish kebabs, and here he returns to that idea in “Residue,” in which a steel bar penetrates layers of drywall, siding and wood, an apt visual for the violence of gentrification. Echoing that theme, Ingram’s photograph “So Atlanta” of an excavator on top of a hill of freshly tilled Georgia clay (with a Coca-Cola sign and MARTA train, no less, in the distance) encapsulates the lived reality of our city as construction site.

Ridley Howard makes deadpan paintings of the kind of mildly angsty, pretty urbanites that suggest Alex Katz, crossed with “Master of None.” In his work for “Easy Air,” Howard creates delicate drawings intersected with bold, graphic lines and color that suggest the delicacy of human relations next to the big, bold gestures of advertising or movie posters. His figures look trapped in their desires, as if willing themselves to lead lives as resonant and exciting as the advertised ones that paper their reality.

ART REVIEW

“Easy Air”

Through May 12. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays. Free. Hathaway Contemporary Gallery, 887 Howell Mill Road NW, Suite 4, Atlanta. 470-428-2061, hathawaygallery.com.

Bottom line: Three strong artists ponder existence using the figure and landscape as their muse.

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