EJ Hauser at WINDOW
On ViewAnton Kern Window
October 17–November 11, 2022
There are at least seven distinct layers of color in EJ Hauser’s Big Early Summer (all works 2022). From cerulean, green, and pink to faded violet, they swing from aerial view to vista, so that topography happens in steps. What does it mean for topography to unfold like this, to be made rather than a simple fact? Peering through a storefront window at this canvas, the most saturated colors describe tracts of land and bodies of water, darker colors suggest shadows in the landscape, and the ghostly imprints of revision—pinks and violets against each other—read as memories, transcriptions of light hitting the landscape. The effect is that of an overhead projector late in the school period, where smudges and scrawls color the underlying lesson; and, watching the teacher’s hand in concert with the rubric, you can see lateral action becoming truth in the lighted image.
The diamonds and voids here recall specific literary visions: Faulkner’s “between the curling flower spaces” or Lispector’s “squeaking of the tree’s little leaves rubbing against one another radiant.” They are both functions of the environment and lenses onto themselves, so that the mapping of roads or rivers becomes analogous to the outline of a chain-link fence or an outcropping through which a scene is glimpsed. In earlier paintings, Hauser has conflated emblems with constellations and typography with mark making. At Big Early Summer’s center, there is a mess of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal brushstrokes. Moving outward, the marks solidify into their own respective patterns, but disruption—fencing, foliage, notation—is still the overarching theme of the picture. It’s not that Hauser is hiding anything; there are two clear mountain peaks in the background, believable, even receding into perspective. Each brushstroke tilts undeniably toward some axis, and in doing so, destabilizes the illusion. It’s an honest way of rendering a landscape, pulling vision into the realm of the body, so that this raster is a harmony of eye and wrist.
At the end of his novel Ennemonde, Jean Giono writes of a man returning home after years in prison, noticing how “the great rectangle” of his land “would break, like the seashells he could hear crunching in the sand under the hooves of his horse.” To truly know a place, it seems, is to be able to envision it from a bird’s-eye view built up by perception. The abstraction of a map can be less of a calculation and more of an accumulation of memories, horizons transposed into borders. It’s fitting that another of Hauser’s paintings, Late Spring, occludes Big Early Summer as you round the corner from Lafayette onto Walker Street. Floating on cables in the windowpane, Late Spring’s edge-to-edge pattern of waves or peaks leads into the other canvases and encourages multiple vantage points. In another corner, the diminutive That Night in August is a more graphic representation of waves, almost resembling a woodcut. Near its center, parallel lines coalesce into a blur, forming a specter in the pattern. Squinting, an image is almost legible, but it is a mere suggestion born out of the density of lines.
On Lafayette Street, a single canvas occupies the windowpane, and if we are to believe its title, First Early Summer, it is the impetus for the larger canvas. Its layers are even more tightly wound, and when I was there in the afternoon, its composition played against the reflections of the window. There were pedestrians crossing through the mirrored scene, and a USPS truck drawing a strong line across the canvas’s center. But the metallic paint that Hauser uses in the base layer caught the sun and blew out all other details. From mountain peaks, the spindly silver evened out into a plane where it held yellows, pinks, and greens in familiar diamond shapes. It was as if light was marshaled into a controlled dispersion or responding to its own disorder. These are paintings showing a vision through substance. To have to work at viewing them, sidestepping glare and passersby, is only natural.