"New Work, 2012"
Building upon her sustained investigation of hair, which has been linked in her past works to questions of beauty and commodification, Monica Rezman’s recent body of work treats her signature motif in a more abstract manner. Hair, in these new works, is the basis for ruminations on organic processes, the nature of creativity, and the language of gestural abstraction.
Tangled masses of hair, rendered in charcoal, are stretched taut across horizontal expanses of paper, forming webs of interlaced threads punctuated by knotted clumps. At once soft and precise, charcoal, in Rezman’s hands, captures the texture and feel of hair to such a degree that it invites a visceral response in the viewer. Hair is a substance that evokes feelings of intimacy and familiarity while at the same time having the capacity to repulse. While her previous charcoal drawings isolated the dark strands against a blank background, in the current works hair expands to fill the sheet, proliferating alongside colored shapes, patterns, and streamers. In certain passages, the hair itself becomes an armature for colored facets, like the leading of stained glass. The result is optical confusion, whereby the hair is at once outline and object, being at times in front of the colored forms and at other times fused with them. The indeterminacy of figure and ground, and the all-over calligraphic composition invites a comparison to abstract expressionism, and specifically the tangled webs of Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings and Willem de Kooning’s black and white abstractions of the late 1940s. The tangible association of hair prevents Rezman’s works from being fully abstract, allowing them to hold figurative and feminine meanings.
By placing trompe l’oeil hair into configurations that evoke gestural abstraction, Rezman calls attention to the role of the bodily in this style of painting, which has often been described in terms of life forces, of creation and destruction. The titles of her works, drawn from botany and biology (“Double Fertilization” and “Algeny”) as well as from Navajo mythology (“The Pollen Path”) encourage us to read the repeating arabesques and multiplying patterns in terms of organic propagation. “Algeny,” a term coined in the 1980s to liken genetic engineering to alchemy, refers to the fact that for the first time in history, humanity is able to transform living material at the genetic level. The three canvases titled Algeny, unlike the open lacework of hair that fills the works on paper, depict closed forms that might be read as organisms of sorts, cobbled together from fragments of Rezman’s hair drawings and painted shapes. In their art historical allusions to the generative painterly gesture, layered with references to modern science, this body of work provokes us to think about the concept of creativity in a world in which science has allowed man to redesign nature as never before.
I have always been interested in how women adorn themselves and the extent they go to. As a child I was fascinated watching my mother transform herself in the mornings and evenings through the use of makeup and hairpieces. In this new body of work I explore the process involved in the making of the hairpieces and their use, using both drawing and photography as my mediums.
“Wool Gathering” sums up the two bodies I am working on. The charcoal drawings generally represent female hairpieces that become layered with line and mass and tend to get larger and more expressive the more they are worked on. I am working at bringing out the subtlety of the object, trying to change its inherent characteristics. What once was hair becomes a still life, landscape, or a host of other shapes.
Also included are photographs of a hair factory that I recently visited in India that buy the hair from a religious temple. Shaving the head is an age-old Hindu ritual. Babies are shaved for good luck, Adults allow themselves to be shaved to thank the gods. It’s a ritual about the abandonment of vanity in the quest for blessing and thankfulness. Hair represents the difference between male and female, between beauty and ugly, and hair protects and conceals. Those who sacrifice their hair are giving the gods a piece of themselves.
On the factory floor, women wearing white aprons and masks sit in front of mountains of dark hair arranged on the floor, sorting the hair by color tone. Other women sit on low blue stools and at tables that look like small children’s’ desks pulling bundles of hair across something that looks like a bed of nails.
It is the daily repetition of these women’s work that I try and capture in my photographs. It is the making of the adornment for women that I try and emphasis as I draw the mounds of hair that end up being worn on women in other parts of the world.
Another recurring them in my work are images taken of my daughter while she investigates the mystique and power of femininity while playing close attention to psychological dynamics and interactions.
I am struck how powerful the reaction these images of hair have received. How something so human and part of us can provoke such an extreme response, which ranges from the grotesque to the sublime.