Dreaming is involuntary. It allows the mind to engage in the subconscious, which is unpredictable, perhaps irreverent, emotional, even audacious. Yet, pain or trauma is seemingly ephemeral in this state. Dreaming allows a separation from the physicality and limitations of our bodies, but the catch is the return to reality. For Caitlin Hurd’s collection of oil paintings in “Daydreams from Brooklyn,” on view at Florida Mining Gallery in Jacksonville through June 30, the subject of the works is not necessarily the nonsense narratives of dreams themselves, rather, it is the transitory passage from consciousness to the subconscious, from practical to impractical, and from the flesh to the psyche.
The mind is not necessarily aware of this transition. Thus, the images and environments Hurd depicts are combinations of perceptual space and atmosphere, with imagined concepts and constructed elements. In five large-scale works, Hurd paints an array of imagery typically integrating animals and figures within a landscape or settings. Because they are paintings, and because they are paintings with figures present, there is a need to consider the imagery itself. Hurd transcends some convenient uses of the figure because her depictions are not about the particulars of individualism or personhood; they are about the boundaries of the physical body as well as the subjective avenues of the psychological mind. Her paintings seem to use the figure as an accessory, contributing to the overall effect of subconscious slippage, and they are honest attempts at visualizing the mind/body connection that enables us to pursue desire, challenge reality, heal pain, remember love, and prepare for new challenges.
Many of the figures in her works appear to be floating or drifting, they are not static. Their lack of gravity seems to contribute to their mobility, giving them access to transcend the in-between. The various animals present — from cattle to chickens to cats — not only serve as flashes and fragments of the possible dreamscape, but they are also sentinels of the vulnerable individuals traversing these dreams. In the painting Sister Cat, two felines are either materializing or dematerializing, and they are at a larger protective scale than that of the female figure. Their scale, along with the abstraction of the environment and the physicality of the paint application, signal the condition of detachment from reality. The red clay landscape they are hovering above has features of a garden with equipment, but the atmosphere is abstracted as the land and the sky appear to intermingle through loose brushstrokes and dripping paint.
In dreams, impractical narratives unfold. The settings of Hurd’s paintings are pasturelands and tree-lined countrysides, quite different environments from Brooklyn, where she lives. In these scenes, the charm of quaint, simple living and sustainable practices promises health and happiness free from the struggle and tireless work that actually makes this lifestyle possible. The clothing of the figures, both male and female, also illustrates displacement. They are not necessarily current styles. In fact, they are nondescript, simple dresses, shirts and pants, appearing perennial and timeless. In the painting Efferance Copy, disjointed and incomplete foreground figures distract from multiple distant duplicate figures pictured in the background. This pairing communicates how choice and circumstance affect our path and how revision or transformation is only possible when we are open to change. Passages of the paintings reveal Hurd’s technique: where she draws in paint the initial elements of the composition, she leaves incomplete layers, revealing noticeable editing that merges her technique with her content.
In various interviews and statements, Hurd has discussed personal experiences, including surviving a car accident, that have contributed to her interest in exploring moments that separate us from reality. In her paintings, this experience translates to narrative imagery that seeks to understand the survival and healing pursuits of habitual defense mechanisms, such as dreaming, that enable subconscious repair.
Hurd is originally from the suburbs north of Boston near Lynn and Marblehead, Massachusetts. She studied animation at the Ringling School of Art and Design, but graduated with a BFA in furniture design from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and received her MFA in painting from the New York Academy of Art. This exhibition at Florida Mining presents works that channel what seems to be personal introspection, an introspection that is not possible when dreaming, where nothing is questioned and memory is irrelevant.
Caitlin Hurd’s exhibition “Daydreams from Brooklyn” is on view at Florida Mining Gallery, Jacksonville, Florida, through June 30.
Lily Kuonen is an assistant professor of art at Jacksonville University in Florida. She is a native of Arkansas, where she was born in the kitchen of her parent’s house.