Thursday, April 13, 2017

Beginning a Visual Conversation: The work of Maxine Hess

“Hidden in Plain Sight,” Hathaway Contemporary Gallery, Atlanta, March 18 – April 15, 2017

By Flora Rosefsky

Installation: The Reading Room, by Maxine Hess

Maxine Hess’s show, “Hidden in Plain Sight” and her artist talk occurred one day after the bridge collapse on I-85, which is not only disrupting the traffic and lives of over 250,000 people each day until repaired, but which also points out the tragic issues of homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, and a sub-culture living under the bridges of our interstates without much hope for a better life. Do we take responsibility and make it our personal concern to do something about these people’s lives? Or do we get the bridge fixed, get back into our one-driver cars, and keep the reality hidden, as is gun violence, and other issues Maxine is raising with her art?

Artist Maxine Hess with Blue Guns

Maxine’s installation, “The Reading Room” at first glance reveals wallpaper, pretty enough to purchase for one’s home. Look again, and notice the block printed semi-automatic guns perfectly aligned, camouflaged by the traditional baroque design of the red wallpaper. A comfortable wingback chair, draped with a writing-embroidered cloth, provokes questions about what the artist is trying to tell us, or rather, what does she want us to say or think after sitting in that chair with magazines and books nearby with titles like “Guns Safety?” 

As in this installation, all of Maxine’s work encourages an authentic dialogue about important social justice issues including gun violence, sex and human trafficking, women’s and human rights around the world, and perceptions of physical beauty of girls and women. 

Anne Weems, Maxine Hess and Laura Hathaway 
with Maxine's repurposed quilt entitled:
Dedicated to the missing/murdered women on the US/Mexico Border

Maxine brings sincere sensibilities to her art: its intrinsic beauty of color, design and texture, and a certain whimsy within some of the work brighten the otherwise serious subject matter.  The framed monoprints of wallpaper patterns superimposed with printed guns echo the themes of this unique show. Maxine’s delicate embroidery and sewing skills repurpose found materials such as a large Texas star quilt upon which she’s added outlined shapes of women and girl’s bodies. Without personalizing details, the figures appear innocent and beautiful in the warm and happy colors of the quilt, yet there is a disquieting message when you take the time to look carefully, making up your own interpretation. 

As part of her artist’s talk, Maxine read a thoughtful poem by her husband, William “George” Hess, which reveals  a lot about how she approaches her work. 

Maxine Creates

I’ve seen you
Take a scrap of cloth from a sometimes creaking drawer
Lay it flat, but not iron out the wrinkles or smooth the edges nor clip loose threads
As it may become a tear or a drop of blood, or a leaf or a spider’s strand.

I’ve seen how you
Let the world see how you paint with cloth and thread
Stitches loosely made and some in a pattern of purpose
Only you know when your work is finished and ready for someone’s wall.

Perhaps artists can become the conduits of starting a real dialogue for social issues to make the changes needed to improve our communities. To help save one person is to save the world. Let us start with one person or one cause. Thank you Maxine Hess for your part to begin this conversation.

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