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Laurie Hogin: The Forest of the Future

September 22, 2007 - January 13, 2008

 

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art (CRMA) opened a new exhibition entitled Laurie Hogin: The Forest of the Future on Saturday, September 22, 2007.

Best known for her paintings of plants and animals in overgrown landscape settings, Chicago-based artist Laurie Hogin's work tackles issues of consumer culture, brand loyalty, and the world's fragile ecosystem. More than a social or political statement, Hogin addresses how single images conjure up entire narratives and how these images imply stories and myths that speak to individual and shared desires.

In her works, allegorical animal and plant specimens sport the colors of branded commodities and nationalist identity. Angry little songbirds, fashion-model monkeys, and reptiles patterned with the colors of industrial entities, cosmetics, and modern media sit on rocky outcroppings as though arranged for retail display. While thoroughly modern, her work conjures up their 17th century Dutch and Flemish antecedents.

Her most recent work includes paintings, sculpture and costumes that create narratives to form a wry commentary on various contemporary cultural and political currents in the U.S. In other recent work, Hogin refers to an environment where the products of industry have infiltrated every last corner, where the global system of production has maneuvered its way into the natural world, and the landscape itself has taken on industrial hues. This is a world where the very DNA of all organic life has been altered and manipulated by the culture of commerce, where identity is replaced with product.

This exhibition will serve as an "early career retrospective," including a variety of different works of her art that will afford the visitor the opportunity to see Laurie Hogin's work created over the past 15 years. Drawn from private collections, the artist's galleries -- in Chicago, New York, Culver City, California and Newcastle, England -- and the artist herself, this exhibition is the largest solo exhibition of Hogin's work to date. Accompanying many of the works are artist's statements about the ideas and concepts that motivated the creation of the work. These texts ask the viewer to think more critically about the world in which he or she lives and the daily factors that influence the decisions we all make.

"It is both an honor and privilege to present this 15-year retrospective of the work of Laurie Hogin," says CRMA Curator of Collections and Exhibitions Sean Ulmer, who organized the exhibition. "In addition to being an extraordinary painter technically, Laurie's work causes me to see the world around me differently. Her paintings and installation pieces asks all of us to think more carefully and critically about the various factors at play in popular culture that affect our daily lives."

Laurie Hogin: The Forest of the Future will run through January 13, 2008. This exhibition is made possible by The Momentum Fund and the Altorfer, Inc. Fund, both of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, and by the Annual Fund and Members of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

 

(above: Laurie Hogin, American Domestic Species--U.S. Energy Policy (Satire Monkeys), 2006, oil on panel, 24 x 18 inches. courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California)


Wall text for the exhibition

Best known for her paintings of strangely-colored animals in fantastic landscape settings, Chicago-based artist Laurie Hogin's work tackles issues of consumer culture, brand loyalty, and the world's fragile ecosystem. Allegorical animal and plant specimens sport the colors of branded commodities and nationalist identity. Angry little songbirds, fashion-model monkeys, and reptiles patterned with the colors of industrial entities, cosmetics, and modern media sit on rocky outcroppings as though arranged for retail display. While thoroughly modern, her work conjures up their 17th century Dutch and Flemish antecedants, produced during the time of the birth of the middle class and a new consumer culture.

Her most recent work includes paintings, sculpture, and costumes that create narratives to form a wry commentary on various contemporary cultural and political currents in the United States and the world. In other recent work, Hogin refers to an environment where the products of industry have infiltrated every last corner, where the global system of production has maneuvered its way into the natural world, and the landscape itself has taken on industrial hues. This is a world where the very DNA of all organic life has been altered and manipulated by the culture of commerce, where identity is replaced with product.

Born in Chicago in 1963, Laurie Hogin moved with her family to the New York City suburb of Cos Cob, Connecticut, while still an infant. Only 28 miles from midtown Manhattan, Hogin frequently went into the city for museums, shopping, and a variety of cultural activities. She received her Bachelor's degree in fine art in 1985 from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and her Master's degree in 1989 from the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. Since the early 1990s, Hogin has taught at several institutions: the School of the Art Institute, the University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Valparaiso University, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is currently Associate Professor and Chair of the Painting and Sculpture Program.

This exhibition is made possible by The Momentum Fund and the Altorfer, Inc. Fund of the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, and by the Annual Fund and Members of the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art.

 

Object labels for the exhibition

PATRIOT Fungus, 2006
Cast resin, paint, glitter
Courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California
L2007.043
 
"These fungus specimens are cast from a collection of hundreds of fruiting bodies of the 'Artist's Fungus,' as the species is called, collected from the woods around my parents' house in the New York suburbs and from my own home in rural Illinois. Fungi, including rusts, smuts, puffballs, shelf fungi and mushrooms, have long provided a semi-comic, poetic metaphor for me. This metaphor has two simultaneous, yet somewhat contradictory, references in my work. The plants themselves function in an ecosystem to break down dead organic matter, destroying old structures, recycling nutrients and making them available for new plant growth. The fruiting bodies of the shelf fungus are evidence of rot within whatever structure they appear on. In American and English cultural traditions, fungi are disdained; they are associated with death, madness, and witchcraft -- the process of decay is to be feared. Here, they provide a metaphor for revolutionary change, even as they declare evidence of rot within."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
American Domestic Species: Defense of Marriage
(Satire Monkeys), 2006
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California
L2007.044
 
In this satirical work, Hogin portrays a heterosexual pair of monkeys, clutching to each other, defending the traditional definition of marriage. What they don't realize, however, is that the blue of the boy and the pink of the girl -- traditional gender-related colors-are hardly uniform. There is pink in the blue and blue in the pink, and even shades of chartreuse and violet. This underscores that we all have "parts of many genders in varying degrees," something the artist calls "multiformity." She says: "I think people are far more complex, of course, and thought the Defense of Marriage act was a reprehensible and silly assertion of homophobia -- which...is about repression of latent feelings or [the] inappropriate imposition of religion on public life.... It's about the culture and society trying, inappropriately and wrongly, to define marriage as a single kind of thing."
 
According to the artist, the chocolates reference "romantic love as articulated and exploited by consumerism-always selling us red roses and candy as emblems."
 
 
American Domestic Species: U.S. Energy Policy
(Satire Monkeys), 2006
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California
L2007.045
 
In this work, the monkey stands in for politicians who cater to the oil industry and the potential volatility of the situation is clearly evident with the lit cigar in such close proximity to the gasoline can. The cigar celebrates the profitability to politicians of this relationship but the monkey, who pretends to be "green" or environmental, is seen revealing his true colors, with the red of the gas can showing through his fur. "The narrative suggests that this greedy, ignorant course of action -- dependence on petroleum and investment in petroleum alone -- will result in disaster," says the artist.
 
 
Diorama: Land of Desire (Prozac Planet), 2007
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist and Littlejohn Contemporary, New York
L2007.058
 
"The painting...is one out of a body of work that combines compositional and other formal elements and conventions from the ideologically related practices of store window display, natural history museum dioramas, product photography, and 17th century European paintings with their 'embarrassment of riches' and their display of the spoils of colonial empire. Each animal symbolizes a moment in which nature embodies the substances of industrial society as each sports, as though by genetic modification, the chemical colors of consumerism, advertising billboards, food and pharmaceutical dyes, and product packaging."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
 
Women's Work, 2004
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Peter Miller Gallery, Chicago
L2007.062-073
 
"Women's Work is an homage....I was thinking of the saying, 'A man can work from sun to sun, but a woman's work is never done' and the gender divisions of labor and privilege that persist all over the globe; the fact being that greater professional and intellectual opportunities for educated, demographically lucky women like me has not translated into a more equitable division of labor. 'Women's work' is still the responsibility of women; the major development is now they are also required by economic necessity to work outside the home, and in many places, it is in the repetitive production of small consumer items -- so the paintings were to honor that kind of activity.
 
There is still such a thing as 'women's work,' and most women in the world are seriously burdened with it. My impulse in making this intensely repetitive, labor-intensive little piece was to honor that labor. Of course, the bunny has always been a feminine and feminist icon to me -- a symbol of objectification, fertility and reproduction...and a creature with the ability to claim agency by looking back at the viewer, and growing fangs and claws, and blushing a violent pink as the fact of its assigned identity gathers strength."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
Subdivisions, 2006
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Peter Miller Gallery, Chicago
L2007.074-085
 
"Ecosystems of industry, commerce, desire and identity shape the lay of the land.
 
Landscapes have always provided us with a moment, a scene, a visual representation of the ecosystems and economies that produce them. They represent 'nature' as it is defined by the culture as well as depicting a landscape altered by history and shaped by cities, highways, parks and other manifestations of human activity.
 
Landscapes also provide us with the settings for our fantasies and desires, be they imperialist, heroic, erotic, apocalyptic or pastoral. Among these fields, exurban subdivision construction sites, where farmland topsoil is scraped off and transported for use on golf courses and urban parks, are the backdrops for the appearance of imaginary, metaphorical monsters in the garden whose skins sport the colors of construction and hazmat signage.... These are from a series of 36...landscapes done on location at six different new subdivisions in East Central Illinois, where prime agricultural land is being turned into either big-box retail sprawl or residential subdivisions. These scenes are painted quickly, from life, in sizes and numbers that refer to snapshots, mimicking a tradition that celebrated a long-lost belief in a pure Nature and suggesting both the economic and political forces underlying the landscape, but also the narratives we write over them, the stories we want to believe about the Nature of our desires."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
Natural History Diorama-Reedy Creek Estates, 2007
Oil on canvas
Private collection
L2007.101
 
"Woodlands, preserved as forest parks within urbanized industrialized Illinois, are the habitats of hybrid, reptilian creatures, magenta bunnies, blaze orange deer, and turkey-like birds whose marking mimic those of brightly colored litter that blows along the roadsides."
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
NBC News (And thus Good Things are Brought to Life), 1997
Oil on canvas
Private collection
L2007.088
 
In a work such as this, Laurie Hogin uses the symbol of the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) -- a peacock with a rainbow tail -- to illuminate the power of the media in today's society. In this case, the mascot has been made to look haggard and sickly, the result of a corrupted system: "My NBC peacock is a disturbed, ravenous creature, presented in a still-life format, like a Dutch hunt trophy still life (an emblem of material excess)."
 
The phrase "And thus good things are brought to life" is a specific reference to General Electric, the corporate parent of NBC, whose slogan was "We bring good things to life." At the time of the creation of this work, NBC was reporting on the performance of weaponry made by GE for the Gulf War. This potential conflict of interest struck the artist as "a kind of sickness in a democracy when the interests that have the most to gain in a situation are the same interests reporting on events." By extension, the work also addresses the consolidation of media in today's society and the ways in which information is controlled and released: "Major news media are far more interested in our eyeballs as consumers than our informed participation as citizens."
 
 
His Master's Champion, "American Pride," 1995
Oil on canvas
Private collection
L2007.089
 
In American Pride, Laurie Hogin takes up the issue of labor relations in the United States. One of a pair of paintings, the bull in this painting is marked for slaughter; each section branded with text. Labor acts such as the Davis Bacon Act, which provided for paying laborers prevailing wages, and the Scaffold or Structural Work Act, which allowed workers injured in accidents the right to sue their employers for damages, were on the artist's mind during the creation of this work. These acts, protecting workers' rights, were being challenged, suspended, and repealed at the time this piece was being painted. It is an indictment of corporate America's thirst for profits at the expense of workers' rights: "basically worker health, safety, and fair labor and wage practices...[are] about to be slaughtered for filet mignon."
 
 
Kitchen Still Life Series: "Rhine - Style Meat with (polychlorinated) Biphenyls (PCB's)," 1992
Oil on panel
Private collection
L2007.090
 
Emerging out of the Dutch still life painting tradition of the 17th century, dead game paintings or "hunting trophies" created an aristocratic image of country life. Artists such as Frans Snyders, Jan Fyt, and Jan Weenix specialized in paintings of dead game, where assemblages of dead fowl, hares, deer, and other animals were transformed into studies of color and texture, and a testament of abundance in the lives of the affluent. The slabs of meat also make reference to large "market" and "kitchen" still lifes that had become popular in the mid-16th century. In Laurie Hogin's hands, however, the original purposes of such paintings have been transformed. Here an angry, semi-rabid animal pulls strenuously at the meat. As in much of Hogin's work, the animal is a stand-in for the human, who in this case is consumed with consuming the uncooked meat, filled, as the title indicates, with biphenyls, a toxic byproduct of several industrial processes including high octane motor and aviation fuels. In a work such as this, Hogin questions not only our consumer culture but also how our demand for products affects the environment around us.
 
 
Sideboard Painting #6, 1994
Oil on canvas
Private collection
L2007.091
 
In this work, Laurie Hogin evokes the 17th century Netherlandish still life tradition in painting. While still life painting as a genre can be traced all the way back to Roman frescoes, this subject matter came into its own particularly in 17th century Holland and Flanders. This was due, in part, to limited opportunity to produce religious images as they were strongly discouraged by the Dutch Reformed Protestant Church. The Netherlandish tradition of detailed realism, coupled with this neutral subject matter appealed to the emerging middle class, who were becoming important patrons of the arts. Sumptuous banquet tables, filled with fine china and crystal, beautiful flowers, exotic fruits, and dead game, became the subject of these paintings. In their way, they referred to the success and accomplishments of the owner of the painting. In fact, the ownership of the painting itself was a status symbol. The possession of a status symbol, such as a painting, was however somewhat at odds with a society that eschewed opulent accumulation of wealth, and it is this dichotomy that fascinates Hogin. In her hands, the brilliantly-colored plumage of the birds is a metaphor for the merchant class art patron wrapping himself up in all his finery -- an occurrence that still happens today.
 
 
Looking Back to the Forest of the Future: Crick-Watson Crane: Male, 2003
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of George and Giulia Papailias and Littlejohn Contemporary, New York
L2007.096
 
Looking Back to the Forest of the Future: Crick-Watson Crane: Female, 2003
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of George and Giulia Papailias and Littlejohn Contemporary, New York
L2007.097
 
"This pair of paintings is a diptych representing a pair of strange crane or egret type birds, painted in a style that mimics and combines traditions in Dutch 17th century aviary paintings as well as Audubon and other American and English naturalist illustrations. The Dutch aviary paintings usually portrayed exotic or spectacular species, and were emblematic of the Dutch Golden Age interest in exotic flora and fauna. Audubon and other naturalist painters reflected an intense interest in and love for nature and natural history, and dovetailed with transcendentalist and romanticized views of nature."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
Field Guide III-Guide to North American Sugar Based Cereals, 2006
Oil on panel
Courtesy the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California
L2007.112-117
 
These paintings come from a series of sets of bird paintings by Hogin all reflecting the "taxonomic impulse" -- the desire to organize the overwhelming variety of nature by means of classification systems. These allegorical migratory songbirds sport the colors of a global economy, from the day-glow hues of package design to the pixilated palettes of television and the Internet. This is an imagined nature's literal embodiment of contemporary conditions.
 
In all of Laurie Hogin's works, the frame is an integral part of the work, a reminder of how much of the world is framed and "packaged." They mimic the rectangles through which the world is viewed: paintings, photographs, television screens, computer monitors, store display windows, car windows. The frames surround a dazzling array of "specimens" from around the world, brought together for a new narrative of a "natural" world.
 
 
The Thrift Project, 2007
From left to right:
Songbird
The People Had Done It To Themselves
Reciprocal Love
The Fascist Leader
Arcadia
Found t-shirts from various thrift stores, silk screen ink
Courtesy of the artist
L2007.120-124
 
"This project is intended to collect psychodemogrqphic information related to consumers' responses to seven different iconic or mascot-like animals printed on recycled t-shirts along with text that suggests possible satirical meanings for the images. The shirts were gathered from thrift shops, printed with leftover inks by Weiskamp Screen Printing of Champaign [Illinois], and distributed to thrift stores and 'vintage' clothing stores all over the United States. A label inside the shirts asks purchasers to visit a website and provide demographic information about themselves as well as to describe the reasons they responded to the designs."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
Film Costume #1" Professor Alba Simeon from "Monkey See and the Ivory Tower," 2006
Academic regalia denoting degree in Education altered with faux fur, satin, silk thread on mannequin
Courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California
L2007.040
 
Film Costume #2: Iris Hatchett's Hockey Uniform from "In a Man's World," 2006
Bridal satin, embroidery, hockey equipment, mannequin
Courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California
L2007.041
 
Film Costume #3: Ceremonial Uniform for Emperor Little from "The Great Little Man," 2006
British and American military surplus, chicken bones, gold leaf,
Ivy League t-shirt, mannequin
Courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California
L2007.042
 
In sculptural work such as these three costumed mannequins, Hogin continues her investigation into consumer culture, stereotypes, and identity. The mere use of clothing on mannequins evokes retail display, and immediately situates the works in a consumer culture milieu. Issues of branding and brand loyalty are brought out in a vivid way in works such as these. The costumes allude to iconic identities from fictitious films and present odd juxtapositions of materials and meanings. Like her paintings, these sculptures surprise and engage with their clever manipulations.
 
Professor Alba Simeon's traditional academic robes have been altered with faux fur, satin, and silk thread, becoming more of a negligee than an academic robe. Her fictitious name, Simeon, is a play on the word "simian," which means an ape or monkey. The work's materials have usurped the normal gravity and seriousness of academia and one isn't quite certain exactly what she is teaching.
 
In Iris Hatchett -- itself an interesting combination of the name of a flower and of a cutting tool -- Hogin utilizes the image of one of her mad bunnies, an empowered feminine image, as the mascot for a women's hockey team. Hockey, a sometimes violent and brutal sport for its own sake, is traditionally seen as a male sport, although women's teams have been around for some time now. Hogin here created the hockey jersey with bridal satin, further underscoring the tension between traditional and untraditional roles for women.
 
Emperor Little, clad in army uniform encrusted with gilded chicken bones, conjures up Chicken Little, who ran around claiming that the sky was falling because a drop of rain hit his head. The work illuminates the "overstating" frequently found in contemporary society, from the wonders that a particular product might do to weapons of mass destruction supposedly housed in Iraq. The military uniform underscores this latter connection to the so-called "War on Terror," as it was dubbed by the White House and reinforced by the media. According to the artist, the chicken bones also reference "being chicken," avoiding the fight yourself and having others do it for you.
 
 
Twelve Moments of Saturday Morning TV- -T he Colonization of My Child's Mind, 2006
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Koplin Del Rio Gallery, Culver City, California; and Collection of Meg Linton and Marc Meredith
L2007.102-105
 
"These are from a series titled The Colonization of My Child's Mind: Advertising from 12 hours of Saturday Morning TV. The colors of the monkeys are taken from [the products featured on] ads viewed during children's programming on network TV over 12 hours of viewing."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
Allegory of Politics: Politics Defeats History on a Battlefield of Chickens, 1996
Oil on canvas
Courtesy of the artist and Peter Miller Gallery, Chicago
L2007.061
 
"This painting was made as I listened to the 1996 Presidential and Vice Presidential debates on public radio, and all I could think was that these people were a bunch of chickens and turkeys whose politics were limited to sentiment, jingoism, and fear, or some delicate combination of all three.
 
This work is meant to recall the plethora of 19th century French imperialist war paintings that depicted French victories over Middle Eastern forces, including Algerians, Arabs, Turks and Egyptians.... My chickens and turkeys are not engaged in the kind of extreme physical activity of most battle scenes since the violence they are committing is less spectacular, less obvious: they are consuming the butterflies that float in the air around them. Butterflies, in the history of painting, represented the loss of corporeal presence and transformation into pure spirit and memory. Though the content of those metaphors was specifically the transformation of the Christian Resurrection, I am using a secularized version of the metaphor to suggest that the insects represent memory as it becomes history, which we must remember for its lessons.
 
The birds are all red, white and blue, displaying in their plumage the ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood (I use that gendered term with reluctance and in the absence of an alternative that wouldn't sound forced).... But these bird feathers are for show: they have 'wrapped themselves in the flag' even as they destroy the lessons of history. While the eggs are decorated in the birds' own image, they suffer breakage and destruction as the big birds feed. These were added as I listened to political rhetoric about the lives of children even as I saw no evidence of real concern among politicians.
 
The frame is gold and royal blue with an American eagle in each corner. The eagles resemble a large carved eagle my parents gave me and which hung over their front door as long as I can remember. It now hangs in my studio. It is gold-leafed, and it clutches an American flag in its talon, and in its beak it holds a banner, which reads, 'LIVE AND LET LIVE.' This object has great meaning to me; as it evokes personal history, it invokes an obvious but rather painful irony."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
Big Empire Bedroom, 1992
Bed frame
Mad Bunny Sheets, 1992
Hazmat Sign Quilt, 1999
Needlepoint Footstool, 1999 (one of 4 in series)
Courtesy of the artist
L2007.060.a-d
 
left:
Ophelia, 1994
Oil on canvas
Denise and Eric Macey, Winnetka, Illinois
L2007.118
 
right:
Daphne, 1994
Oil on canvas
Private collection
L2007.119
 
"This installation, originally conceived for a private bedroom, includes paintings, a quilt made for an earlier work, and a full-size replica of a Shaker-style cherry canopy bed that has been altered with carved text and taxidermy eyes.
 
The quilt and the Mad Bunny sheets transform a bed, a place of safety, intimacy and privacy, into a platform for a sleep disturbed by semi-comic but insistent little monstrosities that even home fashions and cushy materials can't keep entirely at bay. The sleeper rests amid repeated images of nature, in the form of the bunny, gone a little monstrous, as he is literally blanketed with industrial signage used to indicate hazards such as radiation, explosivity, flammability, and biohazard. The quilt is based on a common Victorian design called 'Around the World.' Patterned after the excessive decorating practices seen in high-end shelter magazines and home design stores, these parodies of home fashions suggest that our domestic arrangements cannot exclude what is outside the door."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
The Body You've Always Wanted #1 (Imagine Yourself), 1997
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist
L2007.046
 
The Body You've Always Wanted #2 (Authentic-Invent Yourself), 1997
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist
L2007.047
 
Monkey Portraits
Allegories of Brand Loyalty
 
"Since 1995, images of monkeys have figured prominently in my work. These paintings comment on the phenomenon of social identities as constructed by consumerism in the 21st century economy, with it's proliferation of products and services that seek the loyalty if not the very sense of identity of their consumers through various 'branding' strategies: logo, color, slogan, sound, naming, and association with 'lifestyle.'
 
The imagesare meant to simultaneously evoke visual strategies from the history of European portraiture, Dutch still life, and contemporary advertising. They are all sets; variations on a theme that vary in color, pattern, accessories, emotional states, or the orientation of the monkey. This is a reiteration of the current marketing trend to present the consumer with an [array] of products, suited to the specific moods or minutely differing preferences of the brand-loyal consumer. For example, Dawn dishwashing liquid comes in five colors, each with a different title, fragrance, and attendant mythology, such as 'Fresh Rain' or 'Spring Blossoms.' Other brands that engage this same strategy are too numerous to name, including Lysol, Dial soap, Bounce fabric softener, and my own 'branded' products.
 
Monkeys in the history of European paintings were always parodies of or stand-ins for human beings, as they are in my works. My reference to portrait-painting is meant to evoke [some of] the social conventions that result in portrait-painting: social status, narcissism, and commodity fetishism."
 
- Laurie Hogin
 
 
Indonesian Bird of Paradise, 1999
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Littlejohn Contemporary, New York
L2007.095
 
Banana Republic, 1999
Oil on panel
Courtesy of the artist and Littlejohn Contemporary, New York
L2007.094
 
"This pair of paintings combines two art historical styles, 19th century American landscape and 17th century Dutch aviary painting. More specifically, these works refer to paintings of tropical sunsets, jungles and mountains made by Hudson River School painters including [Frederick Edwin] Church, [Thomas] Cole, and [Martin Johnson] Heade during the 1850s and 1860s. These paintings reflected the interests and the myths of the culture at the time, including scientific and scenic wonders, as well as the expansion of the nation beyond the doctrine of 'manifest destiny.' They reflected a transcendentalist mood and attitude toward an idealized nature at a time when the nation was coping with the brutal realities of the Civil War and its aftermath. Dutch aviary painting often depicted exotic bird species native to the far reaches of Dutch colonial interests, and were bought or commissioned by householders whose wealth likely reflected those interests, or wished to appear as though they did. My interest in a hybridization of these two styles (with a nod to contemporary advertising images that use idealized Nature as a subject; SUV ads, for example) is in invoking the idea of exoticism, the touristic impulse, and its less innocent corollary, colonial vision in a depiction of romanticized landscape.
 
The quetzal is a member of the pheasant family. It is green and red, with a long tail. It has a limited range in Central America, and is the national symbol of Guatemala and gives that country's currency its name. It was held sacred by the Maya. My quetzal has gone mutant with rage at the pressures it has endured as the object of colonial fantasy and exploitation.... The Bird of Paradise painting has a similar rationale, except that I am using that creature as a metaphor for a similarly exploitative colonial relationship with that part of the world. There are over 40 species of Bird of Paradise, all of which were driven to near-extinction by the trapping of them for hat decorations. Their feathers, and sometimes whole, taxidermied carcasses could be seen on late 19th century clothing. We currently look to Indonesia, among other places for cheap labor to manufacture our goods."
 
- Laurie Hogin

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