Saturday, March 27, 2010

REVIEW: Cecily Herzig at Supreme Court in Montpelier

By Theodore A. Hoppe

It might be easy to categorize Cecily Herzig, a cum laude graduate from Mount Holyoke College, as an illustrator of children's books in the vein of Suzette Barbier or Christine Benjamin. All have a marvelously playful style that displays an imaginative flow and uses a mix of images and words, but there is more complexity unfolding in Cecily Herzig’s artwork. In this exhibit entitled A Very Hungry Rabbit Should be Fed, Herzig is not simply telling a story, she is sharing what she hears and sees in a very personal way, including the perplexities a child might feel, and this leaves the viewer to figure out what happened.

"I wish for something" is repeated three times in one picture, like a short poem. What is wished for? I am content but will always miss you is the mysterious title of another. "There is no forever. What more can you ask for?" is another bit of wonder, as is "Please, please, please" tattooed into characters chasing one another. Like Alice Through the Looking-Glass, we are drawn to follow the rabbit, down the rabbit-hole, because "A very hungry rabbit should be fed." This is art that one needs to live with, to spend time with and not just look at, in order to uncover its secrets.

The works included in the exhibition employ a range of media – oils, prints, watercolors, and crayons. The Crayon Creature series started with sunny spheres and mischievous creatures, part bird part butterfly, inspired by a solar energy project Herzig's husband's was working on. They morphed into stranger characters, more frantic than scary, but always curious looking. At some point, these Crayonamundo pictures, which include collaborative efforts with her pre-school son, began incorporating a "stream of consciousness" type of text – random thoughts, lyrics from a song in the background, things said by her son, or ideas flowing from the imagination. The words and phrases add to the visual experience by creating an atmosphere to swim in.

There are only three oil paintings included in the exhibit, which is unfortunate. Herzig's oil paintings are her most thought-out works and display her artistic talents on a finer level. The watercolor, gouache, and ink pieces are the artist's most recent works. Written texts, absent from the oil paintings, have returned as well, but this time the phrases are longer, more involved, more like poetic verse. These newer pieces are a combination of the crayon series' style and the expressionist style of the oils. Now, the strange characters morph out of the impressions of the watercolor blotches. Asleep on a living pillow is a small community of smiles with eyes that evokes a "Where's Waldo" feel. Though she intended to paint some landscapes while on vacation in the Virgin Islands, the artist's paintings once again became a unique cast of characters: birds (Bad News for the Bird), an elephant (Elephant Hee Haw), Ticks, and other characters and scenarios that are beyond description, such as Lovely Little Shoes, & But 1st the Beauty Parlor. Is it possible to be puzzled and charmed at the same time?

Herzig approaches her art with a child-like understanding, not childish, but with an innocence and enthusiasm, with surprise and endless questions. She seems amazed by her ability to turn something so playful, whimsical, and personal into objects of importance.

Cecily Herzig is wholly original and defies labels. While there are signature elements to her work, her style is constantly evolving as she pushes her work forward. One gets the sense that this young artist has much more to show us.

Cecily Herzig's artwork will be on display at the Vermont Supreme Court until April 30, 2010. Gallery hours are Monday - Thursday, 8 - 4:30, Fridays 12:30-4:30 (closed April 2).

Images: Top to Bottom: A Very Hungry Rabbit Should be Fed, three oil paintings, watercolor detail