John Hartley, Champion, 2013, oil on canvas, 60 x 60"
ModernDallas.net re-post of my article
Usually when an artist uses nostalgia as a driving force behind their work, I am instantly turned off. John Hartley makes me re-evaluate my inclinations. I was also counseled by Albert Camus' collection of essays, Rebel. Camus claims, "every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being." That makes Hartley the rebel of Artspace 111 in Fort Worth.
Many of the toys John Hartley depicts are really too old for most viewers to have owned as children, but we all recognize that he has reached back into someone’s childhood past. Many of these types of objects have become collector items for young hipsters that enjoy a past they never had. Others archive these objects into toy collects that later end up in museums. Hartley seems to be more interested in the cultural and social messages relayed by these objects. He gives a few clues to his intention by his choices. Hartley lights his subjects like an old portrait painting. Past masters would place their subjects in ambiguously atmospheric space to help achieve total focus on that person’s skin and clothes. Health and wealth were the true subjects in portraits. Though Hartley celebrates the weathered chips and marks on the toys, the true portrait is the heros and villains that have shaped our culture through generations of toys. These toys are symbols of power that children were suppose to model.
One toy that I tried to model as kid is the classic plastic toy soldier like in the work, Battlefield Scrimmage. A massive 30 by 40 inch painting, Hartley renders these toys all pilled up and looking to be just dumped out on the floor. I never made it into the military, but a work like this reminds me of some of my own battles in the livingroom. Here I feel nostalgic. Typical nostalgia is a romantic fondness for the past, stripped of meaningful reflection. Hartley’s dramatic pieces is more like Camus’ understanding of nostalgia. These works appeal to our essence of being which even, accord to Jacques Derrida, expands to the inanimate. Our very identity was helped shaped through our toys as children. Hartley show the complexity of our collective past that run through generations.
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