Nicole Jean Hill, “Hissing Cockroach,” 2006, c-print
Blue Sky made efficient use of their three galleries this month with just as many exhibitions: Karen Glaser documented the wild kingdom; KayLynn Deveney made a portrait of solitary domestic life; and Nicole Jean Hill managed to unify them both in Home Turf.
Glaser’s murky underwater landscapes, shot in the swamps near her Florida home, were hit-or-miss for me at best. It was refreshing to see someone use a color palette of dusky pinks, moss greens, and hazy azures that’s far more painterly than most of what we see today; I only wish I actually liked it better. “Ethereal swampiness” all too often gave way to “melon-y ocher” in the chromatics department. Some of the pieces, such as “Dust Storm” (pictured here) and “Turtle Hop” approached that elusive magical zone, but too many failed to transcend the genre of artful nature photography.
Several years ago, KayLynn Deveney moved into a South Wales apartment and met Albert Hastings, an elderly man who does all the things elderly men tend to do: feed pigeons, eat lunch, sit and reminisce, etc. Deveney adopted Bert as her muse, and recently published her extended portrait of Hastings in book form. Deveney attempted to emulate the rhythms of flipping through the book by hanging dry-mounted prints of varying sizes in a scattered fashion on the gallery wall. I’m not against this approach on principle, but in Deveney’s case, it made it hard to zero in on any of the stronger images, of which there were an unfortunate few. The project’s “hook” is that Bert hand-wrote autobiographical captions, which the photographer says, “create a new context for (her) photographs.” But scrawled captions like “Ironing my laundry,” “Enjoying my evening whiskey,” and “Shaving before going out” didn’t exactly blow open the doors of perception.
Thankfully, Nicole Jean Hill’s large-format color prints of exotic “critters” in their terrariums and assorted coops saved the day. Like an entomological version of Adrienne Salinger‘s In My Room, Hill’s Home Turf focuses on the individual’s personal space as much as on the human (or animal) figure. Hill photos of domestic ferrets, scorpions, cockateils, and iguanas go a step farther, though, to provide a glancing portrait of the pet owners, as seen through their own living spaces. When I first saw “Fire Eyes” (pictured here) at Newspace a few years ago, I flipped my lid for it (as did Amy Stein a few months ago on her blog), but seeing a gallery full of Hill’s critter pictures got a little repetitious. She doesn’t vary her framing or lighting too much, and this uniformity works against the photographs. Hill has also made extensive series on greyhounds and showbirds; a nice mix from these three series would have made for a more interesting exhibition. About half of her photos were total knockouts though, and virtually impossible not to love. (“Fire Eyes” definitely stands the test of time!) In an otherwise underwhelming month at Blue Sky, Nicole Jean Hill—tucked way in the back gallery—makes a trip to the gallery totally worthwhile before the exhibition closes this weekend.
Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW 8th, Tues-Sun, shows end June 29.