Hannah Tarr’s solo exhibition Angel of the Industrial Park is prophetic chaos bound in provisional paintings. Composed of eight mixed-media paintings and a selection of ceramic works, this exhibition simultaneously attempts to shape the immaterial and escape the physical.
Prior to the exhibition’s opening, the artist was visited by an angel and included the conversation in support of the exhibition. “I spoke to an angel. He said, ‘Build a skin around your skin. Let the work cover your softness and carry you into the new world. This new body will keep you safe. It will walk you through the chaos and chronic illness on this dying planet. This augmentation is your escape hatch.’” Including this dialogue frames the exhibition as an interpretation of the visit with vestiges found in each artwork.
Many of the paintings are built from multiple pieces of linen or canvas that have been layered to create painting surface. Often this patchwork surface is not large enough to fully wrap around the stretcher leaving frayed edges and sections of the underlying wood exposed. The paint—applied either so thinly that it seeps and spreads, or in impasto so that it sits atop the surface thickly—emphasizes the physical layers of the substrate and makes the artworks feel like multi-layered skins. Inconsistently constructed and often including imprints of fauna, the paintings feel provisional, formed from whatever was immediately available in the artist’s studio. This makeshift nature pushes the works into the space of sculpture, supporting the equally complicated imagery.
As the exhibition title and statement imply, angels are central characters in the exhibition though there are no literal depictions of them. Instead, the artist has displayed the mythological creatures as bodiless beings, only sometimes physically present. Fragmented faces, free-floating eyes, and indeterminate shapes connote a body without defining one with certainty. The overlapping swaths of paint and drawn elements create a turbulent composition that recall the angel’s role as messenger of impending calamity. The angel with which the artist spoke advised to “Build a skin around your skin… cover your softness.” Although it has not been specifically named, the chaos and angels are reminiscent of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the beginning months as many frantically scrambled to shore up resources and protective equipment in the face of uncertainty.
The angel ends with the words, “this augmentation will be your escape hatch,” but this raises the question, “where are we escaping to?” Humans are not metaphysical beings as angels, so physically escaping the perils of chronic illness is not possible. Tarr gives a possible answer in the artwork 70 Valley Road. This painting, done on cotton voile, loosely resembles a landscape with the number 1989 appliqued at the top. The ethereal quality of the work along with the year and apparent street address in the title suggest a memory from the artist’s childhood. When physical escape is impossible, running away to our memories and faith may be the answer.
Angels of the Industrial Park by Hannah Tarr is on view at Poem 88 in Atlanta, GA through October 30th.