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maggie hasbrouck

THE LOWE GALLERY atlanta | los angeles


“ The Promise of Thunder and the Secrets of Children”: Notes on Maggie Hasbrouck’s Newest Paintings By Jerry Cullum

Maggie Hasbrouck’s work is about dream, desire, innocence, spirituality, and the body. That may seem like a grandiose territory to claim for paintings that appear to evoke children’s games and fantasy, her imaginary stirs the imagination comfortably or not so comfortably. Whatever discomfort we might feel inevitably raises issues of innocence and knowledge, or lack and wish and dream and the gulfs between. Hasbrouck is sidestepping the world of literal reality and taking the viewer quickly into realms of imagination that belong not to the adult viewer but to the children in the pictures. She is a mother, and her daughter appears in many of the photographs that underlie these paintings. Hasbrouck’s children often wear animal masks. We may be reminded of Egyptian and Roman wall paintings, scenes in which nakedness signified the stripping away of illusion and the masks symbolized, the directed animal forces of emotion or the accumulation of the personal powers imaged forth in the creature whose head replaced the human cranium. Or we may just be reminded of children’s made-up games of the moment. As a mother, Hasbrouck knows from her own experience as well as her own memory just how secret and creative the world of the sensitive child is. The child’s imagination really does construct its own private rituals and its own private equivalents to ancient religions. A little introspection may be needed to call this forth; we forget, because it was a long time ago. And children learn not to be too forthcoming with their fantasies in a world that denigrates the place of imagination. This is way “Parable Revisited” is a kepy painting in the newest work. The (female) child is a lamb, a masked emblem of innocence in a Peaceable Kingdom in which the (male) lion is a companion and guardian rather than a devourer. But we are nevertheless not necessarily in the land of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, much less in the country of conventional gender roles. The lion and lamb are contending that exists in this potent though seemingly simple image. It is of tremendous significance that Hasbrouck begins her painting practice with a period of meditation. It is also significant that she teaches Sunday school at a Quaker meeting. Airplanes and Undertow (When We Were 7) | 80 x 74 inches | photoencaustic | 2007

“If thee does not return to the Inner Light, where will thee turn?” is an ancient insight that long predates George Fox and the particular rebirth of inwardness that gave rise to Quaker spirituality. In the traditions that have been presecuted by fundamentalist opponents in all generations, spirit and body are in opposition but also a continuum. What begins in the lowest, crudest biological forces terminates in the highest forms of ethical and spiritual commitment through direct experience. Just as psychoanalysis teaches, the impulses grounded in bodily survival provide the driving energy for personal capacities intuited only in dreams. The traditions differ from Freud only in the assertion that the capacities are real. So Hasbrouck is tapping into some scary possibilities. Her own innocence may overlook the infinite distortions of which human beings are capable, but her recollection of the visions that occur in early childhood and are subsequently beaten out of us, figuratively or literally, is exceptionally accurate. Some of it is easy to read, and very comfortable. “Of Wishing to Fly”: who hasn’t experienced the longings of spiritual liberation or literal escape into the heavens? Birds are messengers of the soul in most traditions, and the parallel her is simple, fairly universal, and itself spiritual liberating. Put more simply, it makes us happy. The aw-shucks response that stems from our own recollection of past joy isplayed off of by Hasbrouck in any number of new works. But we are never, ever in the world of Norman Rockwell. We are in that sphere of childhood in which the simplest, seemingly cutest act opens out into a realm of mystery. “Another Dream About Flying” combines wings, mask, and an odd pose that recalls meditational postures more than childhood exuberance. We draw ourselves up to enter into our own realms of inward experience, as often as we run to allow space for our dreams. The empty birdcages swung by a boy in “The Secrets of Children” and by a girl in “Wind in My Hair” are potent signifiers of a complex set of intuitions. Parents cage children in myriad ways; it’s part of the process of creating civilization. We are born wild, and we become human. But again, the traditions teach that we have the highest possibilities alongside the lowest from the very beginning; it’s the refining of early preceptions that leads to realms beyond the crudest of self-aggrandizing and self-absorbed strategic moves. We are, in this view, beasts born to become angels. And that seems to be where Hasbrouck is going. The naked child with crown in “Threshold” is an ancient symbol of divine insight embodied in reborn innocence, although in this case it could also be read as simply being on the threshold of grown-up power and possibilty. The kingdom to be gained could be so much more literal and this-worldly. Baby | 24 x 30 inches | photoencaustic | 2006

“Sunset” is a reminder of the long road to be traveled to get to any treshold whatsoever. Standing on a chair is a simple pleasure of childhood that gets the body higher. The cramped viewes of being little are opened out into heights more associated with grown-ups. And the power and liberating energy of horses seems to be associated with this kind of experience; why, we won’t go into here. Reams have been written about the childhood link between girls and horses, and Hasbrouck knows all about it. “Waiting” is what childhood is all about. Bouquets of flowers and homages to what has not yet arrived, and what that might be is left to the imagination of the viewer. It gets easier to understand as the child grows older. If the innocent joy of a “Baby” suggests a world of happy butterflies, the goatish stubborness bodied forth in “When I Was Four” may persist even as the bird self bursts forth in “When I Was Six.” But the animal emblems suggest more than Hasbrouck is willing or able to tell. “The Promise” is an immense mystery feeding into possible religious symbolism on one hand, and multiple strands of private personal experience on the other. The lamb, the solo moth (so butterfly-like as to remind us the Greek “psyche” means “butterfly” and “soul”), and the red-gloved child poised on a dividing line between two worlds present more symbols than one can comfortably connect. As is the case with many of the paintings, several different readings are possible, and Hasbrouck doesn’t intend to make the interpretation easy. Dreams and visions are always a bit ambiguous, even though in the old tales much rides on getting their meaning right. “Another Small Memory” is just about as stunningly archetypal as they come. It’s as though Hasbrouck’s accumulated intuitions break through into some other realm of experience altogether, though paradoxically. The child rabbit mask and loose garments is posed against a dark circle edged in a flamelike corona, a dramatically symbolic black sun. The lozenge of light beneath this scene is reminiscent of one of Mark Rothko’s spiritually charged abstract works that defined the fresh religious quest of mid-twentieth-century Americans. Coming in the middle of much simpler symbolism, it’s startling. ` Lest we be led into out own spiritual simplicities, “A Quieter Dream” perches the unmasked child on a horse outline against a smaller, blurrier dark sun. Whatever spiritual revelations might be going on, they feed back into Freudian perplexities. Childhood is a messy tangle of opposing energies, and we spend our adult lives sorting it all out. And eventually it all feeds into our intuitions from or projections into nature, depending on your own intellectual perspective. Rumi writes that we dies as plants to become animals, and this memory is retained Boy with Red Bird | 15 x 18 inches | photoencaustic | 2009

only in our affection for flowers and springtime. We don’t have to follow the Persian mystic’s logic of dying to animal to become human and dying to self to become angel and more than angel to appreciate the dimensions of Hasbrouck’s flower paitings. We could also read them as sensually compelling or, heck, downright sexy. Hasbrouck makes room for a whole range of perspectives. As Rumi wrote about why he wrote poetry, a good host gives the guests what they desire, rather than imposing a rigid regimen. And these flowers are certainly as open and inviting a vision as one could possibly wish. Their visionary quietude is a contrast and yet a continuation of the paintings of children. Consider the complexity of the “Parrot Tulip,” for example. The whorls, concavities, and convexities take us in many directions of association, and the darkness against which the flower occurs suggests the night that gives birth to our deepest, most charged dreams. The flower is more like some such dream image than like the literal blossom photographed in the garden. The lushness of the many calla lilies in these paintings likewise calls forth a host of associations. Hasbrouck redeems a flower that is so highly favored by painters that the first task of the artist is to overcome its merely decorative possibilities. She manages to load it with the full charge of prospective energy that most of us suspect might be there. The “Reclining Tulips” are as humanoid as one might wish. Seeing them, it is possible to believe Rumi’s assertion that our forms had their origins in the vegetative and floral kingdom. We might profitably consider, some other time, just why the tulip was adored as a form in Turkey (where Rumi would have known it as a potent visual symbol in Turkish art). We might think about why the Dutch hybidized it so obsessively and turned it into a commodity that brought down financial empires. There is something irrational in our response to flowers that can lead to destruction, but Hasbrouck focuses us on the positive, spiritually developmental possibilities. We’re back to the idea that Hasbrouck is a prophet of innocent light in the midst of darkness. The Inner Light shines in the midst of our own darkest night, and the darkness has not overcome it. This is not a vision that is particularly well received these days, not least because the night may be more terrible than visionaries like Hasbrouck perceive. We tend to read all human beings in the light of our own inwardness, and Hasbrouck’s “visions from a summer of storms,” as her poetic artist’s statement puts it, are simultaneously dark and sunny.

Calla | 36 x 48 inches | photoencaustic | 2006

But they are visions that find “ the teasing of lightning” and “the promise of thunder” a hope and not a threat. The force that can destroy is also the bringer of the water of life. An “abundance of rain” comes after, and from the rain, the flowers that are gathered by children waiting. The storms that bring fallen trees bring also the visions and the secrets of children. On the other hand, Hasbrouck’s vision isn’t utterly romantic in the sense of neglecting “ the mockingbird outside the window carried of by hawk.” The world is waiting to eat innocent flesh, and the birds of the soul can sometimes turn deadly. However, Hasbrouck wants to focus on the ways of “smell beasts in the night” finding safety even as they explore and we muse on their explorations. Her paintings are shelters from the storm as well as gateways to new mornings...and that mix of metaphors is one way of saying that her symbols work in more than one way. Good symbols do that; they point us in the right direction but they don’t force us down roads we aren’t ready to travel. These paintings are openings to dreams that disturb as well as comfort.

Before the Storm (The Calm) | 74 x 82 inches | photoencaustic | 2007

Everyday Wishes | 72 x 80 inches | photoencaustic | 2008

Fiery Tussock | 62 x 50 inches | photoencaustic | 2004

Girl with Fire | 15 x 18 inches | photoencaustic | 2009

Hummingbird | 48 x 48 inches | photoencaustic | 2009

Lambs (The Alphabet Series) | 54 x 36 inches | photoencaustic | 2003

The Messenger Returns | 48 x 36 inches | photoencaustic | 2006

The New Calla | 60 x 48 inches | photoencaustic | 2009

Three Red Butterflies | 40 x 50 inches | photoencaustic on wood panel | 2005

White Petunia | 40 x 44 inches | photoencaustic | 2009

Open Gardenias | 48 x 60 inches | photoencaustic | 2009

Raven (The Alphabet Series) | 48 x 36 inches | photoencaustic on wood panel | 2004

Small Boy | 62 x 50 inches | photoencaustic | 2007

The Dream Mask | 48 x 42 inches | photoencaustic | 2006


Maggie Hasbrouck has long been recognized for her innovative integration of oil, waz and photography, a technique which is described as photo-encaustic. Her paintings are identifiable for their lingering, sometimes haunting, beauty. Hasbrouck’s most recent offering is built around the dream world of children - each recording a narrative that corresponds to a specific letter of the alphabet. Hasbrouck obtained her BFA from the University of New Mexico in Alberquerque in 1985 and her MFA from the University of Illinois in Champlain in 1987. She has taught at the Southeastern Center for the Arts in South Holland, Illinois and The Atlanta College of Art. Hasbrouck has had numberous gallery shows and her work is omnipresent in the southern United States. Hasbrouck’s work is featured in many prominent public and private collections, including those of Sir Elton John, Jon Bon Jovi, Courtney Cox Arquette and Faith Hill.


Jerry Cullum has been Senior Editor of ART PAPERS Magazine since 1997, having previously served as Associate Editor since 1984. He has also served as an art critic for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution since 1988, and as a regular contributor to ARTnews and Art in America since 1988, and as freelance critic for other publications, including Sculpture, since 1989. Cullum holds a B.A. in Literature from Eckerd College, an M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of California Santa Barbara, and a Ph.D. from the Institute of the Liberal Arts, Emory University. Cullum is also the author of Unfinished Ventures: Selected Poems 1977-2005.

Graphic Design Sarah Bockel, The Lowe Gallery, Atlanta, GS Printing C.S. Publishers, INc., Atlanta, GA Produced by The Lowe Gallery all rights reserved, 2006

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