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Shock of the Few

[whitespace] Meg Hitchcock
Michael Amsler

Icky art: Meg Hitchcock glues together one of her unusual candy works.

New emerging artists' exhibition has a lot on its mind--and its head

By Gretchen Giles

SOME ARTISTS are lauded for the beauty of their design, concept, brushstrokes, color work, their proficiency with stone, marble, steel, or wood. Others are hailed for the technical virtuosity of their video images; the scenes that they cull from the darkness of the human soul; the gorgeous quality of the paint; the ineffability of the light captured on canvas; the inimitable rendering of the human form in silver gelatin.

Santa Rosa artist Meg Hitchcock's compliment came the other way.

"I walked into her studio," remembers Guerneville artist Harley with a chuckle, "and I said, 'These are icky! These are really icky!'

"Her little face just fell, so I said, 'No! Don't worry! These are icky in a good way.'"

What could be so icky about Hitchcock's work, paintings that, after all, are done by a highly skilled and well- trained artist? The human hair. Oh, yeah--and the candy.

Possibly producing the grandchildren of the surrealist fur cup that left a shocking taste in the mouths of Parisian aesthetes some 70 years ago, Hitchcock has a regular deal with two local salons to visit weekly and get her hair done. That is, done up from the scraps on the floor and scooped into bags to take home to her studio and wax onto canvases.

Hitchcock is among the six artists featured at the California Museum of Art's upcoming "Ingress" show, spotlighting those local artists whom CMA director Gay Shelton and co-curators Harley and arts writer Sandy Thompson feel deserve more attention.

Joining Hitchcock are Healdsburg painter Susan Preston, who works on such found paper as those heavy waxed boxes that house the frozen ravioli her husband particularly favors; Santa Rosa photographer Deirdre Favreau, who contributes an installation based on the rigors of childhood; Santa Rosa tapestry artist Annette Kaplan, whose computer-designed works will be shown in both physical and conceptual form; Petaluma abstract painter William O'Keeffe, whose work centers on the gorgeous qualities of color and of the paint itself; and Santa Rosa painter Mark Jacobson, whose work Shelton hesitantly describes as "humble," for lack of a better word.

"It's very beautiful," she asserts. "It's not overblown."

But we're talking to Hitchcock, whose paintings are certainly not icky, except in a good way. Take "Orthodox Gummies" for example, one of the pieces she's contributing to "Ingress." This large canvas painted with a light cross hangs in her rural studio. It is covered with regularly spaced candy gummy worms, each surrounded by a complete halo of human hair. The effect is both humorous and visceral. From a distance, the image is that of devout paramecia, yet one knows the feel of the slick smoothness of the gummies in the mouth, a feeling that is surmounted by the remembrance of that shock when both the car window and your mouth are open and your own hair comes flying onto your tongue like a horde of unwelcome caterpillars.

Add some wet worm-shaped candies to the mix and you've got ... ick.

Hitchcock is getting used to this. Recently exhibiting at the Meridian Gallery in San Francisco, she was shocked to learn from the gallery owner that visitors' reactions were so negative.

"I guess that it really disturbed people," says Hitchcock, a petite woman with terrific brown hair of her own that was a whole bunch longer until she decided to produce "Self-Portiat" (sic), a mandala of tresses waxed onto silk canvas, last fall.

"It's so innocuous," she shrugs, "it's just hair. But I guess that there are a lot of associations that people just made."

Hitchcock firmly declines these connections, all the while acknowledging that viewers may see sexual, corporeal, and possibly even fascist metaphors in her work. "If I defined it, and if I said that this is what it means, it wouldn't go any further," she says strongly. "This way, it can be anything that people want it to be. Anything. And that's true of so much in life. As soon as it's defined, it just stops. I'm doing it because it's what I do. For the pleasure of it.

"And what anyone would like to read into it is just fine."

Hitchcock is used to going her own way. Right-handed by birth, she paints with her left hand. Proud of her spelling and writing abilities, she finds nonetheless that her left hand can't make use of either. Trained for years in her art, she deliberately paints like a child. Brainy and aesthetically driven, she listens to talk radio and empties her mind of all thoughts as she paints.

"I spent a lot of years studying, and all of my work was really dry and boring to me," Hitchcock admits. "I wasn't having fun doing it. At some point, I made a conscious effort to forget all the rules, and every time a rule came into my head to let it go. Then I did a series of drawings that were very childlike, and it felt really good. You're always told, 'Never use acrylics on top of oils.'

"So, I thought," she says with a mischievous smile, "'that's a good reason to try it.'"


"Ingress" exhibits May 27 through July 19 at the California Museum of Art. A reception and gallery talk with the artists is scheduled for Friday, May 29, from 5 to 8 p.m. Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Admission is $2 for non-members. For details, call 527-0297.

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From the May 14-20, 1998 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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