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Hannah Dougherty Overview

born: 1980
born in: Philiadelphia, PA, United States
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Hannah Dougherty was born in Philadelphia. After studying painting and literature at the Maryland Institute College of Art, she moved to Berlin, Germany, where she is currently living and working. Her large-scale paintings and installations draw inspiration from classical literature, mythology,... [more]

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Review by Mark Gisborne

Locating the work of Hannah Dougherty requires imagination. It is not Surrealism or Pop Art, or even Post-Pop as it has sometimes been called. It shares with the first a propensity towards the bringing together of distant realities, as an earthbound creature such as a stag and donkey clearly do not have wings no more than they have the ability to fly. Also, the sometimes near classical iconographic contents of Dougherty's paintings do not share in any of the delight for consumerism, the celebration of the commonplace and consumption indicative of Pop Art, anymore than they are a literal ironic commentary on late capitalist consumerism which the ideas around Post-Pop have sought to promulgate. What they do possess and share with these three movements and artistic trends, however, is the love and freedom of the collage, be it through reusing found materials, found images, or found ideas, and that such sources can somehow be re-directed towards generating different and extendable meanings. The unique aspect of Dougherty's approach to painting as collage is fascinating not because it supposes the real of the collage (the material and substantive reality of something taken from the world), the conventional signifier to signified as sign, but because she retains a sense of detached but undefined symbolic association. They still possess of course the power to signify (to show), but they at the same deny the possibility of immediate gratification exposed by that which is purported to be the signified (to tell). There is a slippage between that which conveyed to the viewer, and the consequence for viewer who has to generate their own form of narrative construction. In a certain sense a doubled imaginative fiction is presented, the fiction created by the artist and derived from the real (sources, like picture books of bird houses, emblems, archaic motifs, etc), that which is traceable (pun intended) like the hand drawn elements, and that which has to be made anew though the discontinuous chain of association to which the viewer has no immediate access. That Dougherty dares to use an a-chronic iconography, knowing quotations from multifarious sources and time periods, is where her work does at least to some extent abut up against certain considerations that might be called Post-Pop. But then her juxtaposition of ideas is sometimes so abstruse as to deliberately undercut an easy assimilation of the iconography she has adopted and becomes largely satirical. For example a book on the history of the life and breeding of canaries, or even the stylised development and anthropocentrism of bird boxes, serves the purposes of simple hilarity, that is by sending up human endeavours that seek to improve upon something birds have been successful at for millennia, namely breeding and nest-building. However, this is less a case of irony (that shown meaning the opposite of what is stated), and more a case of downright amusement and fun revealing the perverse reality of our modern world. There is much that has to be seen as tongue-in-cheek about the sources that Dougherty uses. Whether the artist includes hand drawn anonymous images of posed friends, traces or adopts and enlarges found animal motifs, child drawings, Polka-esque balloons, giant screws from housing supplies or ironmongery manuals, what lies at the bottom of the work is her sense of humour, a parody if you like on the dishevelled world of modern thought. A world that owes as much to the flea market as to the encyclopaedia, as much to the detritus of the found and recycled as it does the rational world of directed meaning. That this is presented in a layered way on her sometimes painted surfaces (sometimes not), or found-bought and treated-untreated materials, points directly to a sought of visual levelling. In a deliberate manner Dougherty's work can be both fanciful and funny, as fanciful as a donkey and a stag (the priapic and the heroic, the libidinal and the beautiful) with eagles wings to take flight, or as bizarre as master-breeding of red canaries. While Dougherty delights in a crazy iconography and its sources, it remains an anti-iconography in other respects. Iconography generally supposes an ordering and symbolic explication of things in the world, Dougherty chooses to invert it by showing we live in a world where meaning slips away at the very moment you seek to grasp it. ©Mark Gisbourne


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