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Exhibition Essay
September 29, 2022

The Beauty of Stillness: For Your Consideration

Author
Alice Chambers

Alice Chambers is a Houston native who is passionate about the visual arts and eager to pursue writing, research, and content creation as a career. Using her background in the digital humanities, she hopes to collaborate with individuals and institutions in the art world sharing their stories through innovative digital platforms. She has written promotional and educational content about art, culture, and history in both academic and commercial settings. Though British art of the nineteenth century remains her academic focus, living in Houston has developed her love for the city’s vibrant scene of Latin American and contemporary art. She currently works at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston as Collections Assistant for the Hirsch Library.
In The Beauty of Stillness, four artists lead us on a rediscovery of nature. Unified chromatically through the use of grayscale tones and thematically through the use of organic forms and subject matter, their works divorce us from our assumptions about the natural world. Stripped of any frame of reference we might gain from color, movement, sound, or smell, our eyes have to work to determine what we are looking at. The Beauty of Stillness prompts contemplation about our place in nature and reveals how even the simplest of subjects can house entire microcosms — if only we sit still long enough to observe them.
Daria Panichas creates thought-provoking photographs that function similarly to Rorschach inkblots: at first glance, a birds-eye view of a sheep can appear as a nebulous amoeba, a cottony seed pod, or even a fibrous crystal depending on the viewer. This subversion of expectations teaches us to slow down and pay attention to the world around us. By accepting Panichas’ invitation to peel back the layers of our presumptions and take a second look, we amplify the wonder we feel when we do finally recognize the sheep. Additionally, the dramatic contrast between light subject matter and dark background operates as a kind of spotlight, elevating even the smallest budding leaf to the status of a crown jewel.
Richard Hricko fills the picture plane of his photogravures with layers of undulating organic forms, some familiar and others slightly alien. Like Panichas, Hricko plays with scale and perspective, forcing us to adjust our own viewpoints and mindfully consider the image before us. Some of his compositions read as snapshots of miniscule universes, microscopic tableaus made visible only through scientific imaging. Then, our eye drifts to another portion of the image, moving onto the next of Hricko’s visual clues, and we’re no longer as certain about what exactly we are looking at. This ambiguity permits multiple interpretations of the same image to coexist and allows us to take our own journey of discovery.
Geoffrey Agrons’ ethereal, atmospheric photographs carry a certain gravity about them. He utilizes abstraction to a lesser degree than Hricko and Panichas; however, though his subject matter is more immediately apparent to a viewer, his work encourages contemplation through the open-ended questions it generates. How have the locations in Agrons’ photographs changed since he captured them? If we visited them ourselves, how would our experience of these landscapes differ from that of Agrons’, or that of any other person who might wander by? The realization that the worlds in Agrons’ photographs no longer exist as they did when he immortalized them on film reminds us of life’s temporality. Human experiences can never be recreated exactly, a fact which is at once melancholy and hopeful, as it gives us the opportunity to make each moment anew.
Finally, Constance McBride takes us into three dimensions with her sculptural installation. What we would see as randomly discarded rubble in any other setting causes us to pause, as we know that these items are anything but random. In fact, we recognize that they have been carefully arranged, and as we move about the installation, we seek to uncover the meaning McBride has left for us. The installation’s whitened debris, which includes bones, branches, and ceramic forms, rests on a bed of sand. Crucially, by including broken pieces of ceramic human limbs, McBride evokes the natural cycle of birth and decay, referencing the concept that we are from dust, and to dust we shall return.
By focusing on humble subject matter — the roots and leaves we tread underfoot, the landscapes and litter we’ve come to regard as commonplace due to our own overexposure — the four artists represented in The Beauty of Stillness break us out of the mundane. Their works reveal the wonders of the natural world so transient, so fragile, and so close at hand if only we would stop to notice them. By limiting their color palettes to shades of gray and utilizing organic subject matter which remains open for interpretation, Panichas, Hricko, Agrons, and McBride welcome viewers to meditate on their art, and, indeed, to consider The Beauty of Stillness.
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