"Throned Again", oil on canvas, 36" x 40" Private Collection
PASSAGES NORTH, WINTER, 1987
To Get Hold of the Invisible, by Ben Mitchell
I saw my first Mary Hatch painting nearly ten years ago. Then, as now, I was forcefully drawn to her work, intrigued by it, mystified, frustrated at times, and always delighted by what was there on the canvas - the drama, the eccentric postures and behavior of the figures, the array of seemingly unexplainable events and objects, the at-times tenuous imbalance in the finely-balanced compositions. But more important, I continue to be moved by the resonant possibilities of what is not there, what is not obvious or explained for us as viewers. Frustrating, yes, delightfully frustrating. Some art may only be described as personal and private, even if it also appeals deeply to others. Mary Hatch's paintings are intensely, demandingly private.
Mary Hatch is painting what speaks to her in a deep, personal fashion, and for many of us who are moved by her paintings, something deeply personal is touched within us. She knows this: "The artist is bringing up what is in the unconscious; that's why it connects with people, even though this cannot be intellectualized. It's pervasive….Maybe that's why the artist doesn't always understand the work, but can communicate." These paintings are visual representations of her private fantasy world in which characters, obscure and often surprising objects, passionate colors (tragically, something the readers of this issue miss in the reproductions), and dramatic moments are given form, setting. And this must be private, it's coming from the unconscious. "What's private in me is private in everyone else," she says. "There are universals." The paintings are allusive, simultaneously personal and universal, representing possibility itself rather than a rigidly defined intellectual invention or interpretation.
But there is something even more forceful than this individual, emotional response that moves me, that brings me back to face Mary's canvases again and again: her paintings are narratives, and there is an imaginative, compelling story evolving in these paintings. As viewers, we are invited into the unraveling of a story in medias res- we aren't there at the beginning, but are welcome to help search for the thread and follow that thread wherever it might lead. The richness of that potential, the places we may find ourselves as viewers, is the unusual power in Mary Hatch's art.
Mary is aware of how both the story and the figurative painting share similar architectural and technical elements: "Only upon reflection do I see stories. My work develops the way a writer develops a novel-character takes over, and at a certain point a personality develops. I set up a little drama... a story....It's essential that the characters are doing what they're doing. A figure will trigger a relationship with another figure. I'll begin to know where they belong, in which environment." Because of this dramatic quality, there is a pervasive and enigmatic sense of the invisible, the unfinished-though not in any sense of the craft, for she is highly skilled and subtle painter. It's an invisibility that stimulates our imagination, that draws us to attempt to unravel the "meanings" of the paintings while becoming more and more caught up in the evocative possibilities, and the impossibility of ever really knowing. Viewers are sometimes angry with this. They demand answers, a neatly-packaged moral or explanation. Mary says, "Why can you relate to a poem in a very deep way without understanding? Because you trust your emotions. In a sense, there is confrontation in my paintings, an awareness that there is a viewer, a public, another world. There are people who don't like it (the work) because they don't understand it right away, but I don't either-I don't want to, if I did I'd be bored."
The paintings are assemblages of character, setting, gesture, object and color, a frozen moment on a stage, a momentarily arrested dance. As Mary wrote earlier this year for the Chicago dance journal SALOME: "Dancers and figurative artists, I believe, share certain sensibilities. They both have heightened awareness of the body and its ability to communicate endless levels of meaning through the slightest gesture or movement." Like a dance or play, her paintings provoke and evoke rather than define and describe the world for us. The narrative in front of us, the sensation of time folding on itself and simultaneously unfolding outward, the mysteriousness of the settings and objects which inhabit the setting-these create an echo of the unconscious, of truth. She says it better: "Somehow you can read the truth, see the truth. In anything. The images or the story connects to something that is true in yourself, as opposed to merely entertaining. I love it, this connecting that happens between the artist and the viewer, I love it because it speaks to me. You can't close the door."
If we accept the work on its own terms and respond to the invitation in the paintings' narrative, to the enigmatic and tentative qualities, we can recognize parts of ourselves in the drama. In what is visible to us as viewers, we are drawn to the invisible, something we can perhaps attempt to hold, however fleetingly: that "mysterious, unseen reality" that is inside all of us, privately and universally. .
WEST MICHIGAN MAGAZINE, JULY 1987
Coming of Age in Kalamazoo, by Kathryn Zerler
When Mary Hatch began painting at 14, she never dreamed that becoming a successful artist would require more than skillful use of brushes and palette. But by the time she graduated with a degree in art from Western Michigan University, she knew that getting a foothold inside the arts community was a necessity.
"I started going to the library at the Art Center because it was easier to find materials there than at Western," says Hatch. "I met (Kalamazoo sculptor) Kirk Newman, who was director of education at the time, and when I showed him slides of my work, he gave me a teaching job."
Hatch found in her job at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts (KIA) valuable contact with other artists. "Three years in a row Kirk Newman got an artist named Harvey Breverman to Kalamazoo for a two-week workshop. It was wonderful, because Harvey's work was quite similar to the way I work. At the time, abstract art was all the rage and I felt sort of isolated working with figures like I do. Not only was Harvey an excellent teacher, but he is also an excellent artist, and finding people who are good at the work you want to do and learning from them is invaluable incentive for an artist."
After Hatch's paintings were shown in 1978 at a Western art fair featuring alumni works, she was invited to give a show at a corporate gallery at Kingscott Associates, Inc., a Kalamazoo architectural firm. One contact led to another, and today Hatch's work is shown at galleries in Chicago and New York.
She says she owes much of her success to "the tremendous support that Kalamazoo community gives to the arts. Until you start showing you never know how people are going to react to your work. The people here were very supportive; some of them even encouraged me to move to New York. But Kalamazoo is where I started, and it's still the place where I feel I can paint."
Some artist wait years for their first big break, but curator Helen Sheridan says the philosophy of the KIA is to give young artists showings so they can get feedback early in their careers. "Having an exhibit gives an artist confidence, so we offer opportunities for artists of varying levels to show their work," says Sheridan. "An exhibition takes a great deal of courage; it's like exhibiting yourself."
Sheridan credits a sophisticated audience of arts patrons attracted to the area by the colleges, and plenty o corporate support for creating a successful arts community. "We give artists jobs, we show their work, we put on classes and seminars, we bring in the works of accomplished artists for them to study," Sheridan says. "This is a good place to come of age as an artist."
She notes that many artists like Hatch, who have strong local base in Kalamazoo, also work professionally in other cities. Some of these are painter Ken Freed, printmaker Denise Lisiecke, sculptors Newman and Marcia Wood, and photographers Peggy Michael and Jim Riegel.
According to Sheridan, Kalamazoo has a national reputation as a strong supporter of artists.