Working intuitively and responding to the process as it unfolds, Robert Hardgrave tries to stay out of the way and let the paintings make themselves. After a kidney transplant in 2003, his work, which fuses mysticism, Inuit iconography, surrealism, and abstraction, began to reveal insights about life, death, and the richness of everything in between. At his studio in Building C, an old Ballard paint warehouse that houses two floors of artists and a film production company, Hardgrave showed me a slew of work, including some oddly-shaped sewn pieces that were recently on display at EC Gallery, Chicago. He painted on heavy, unstretched burlap fabric, cut it up, and then sewed the scraps back together with with fancy binding
stitches crafted from neon thread
using an old sewing machine that still sits on his worktable. He’s become obsessed with sewing, which, it turns out, was one of his father’s preoccupations, too. Fittingly, he called the show in Chicago “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Too Far From the Tree.”
Hardgrave unpacking the burlap pieces.
Because they’re in the Styrofoam crates, the pieces look framed, but actually he installed them on a wall clustered in groups, unframed. Click to see the intricate stitching.
Sometimes Hardgrave covers entire sheets of paper with fancy stitches that look like delicate netting.
Here’s a big painting (6 x 7 feet or so) that he’s been working on for a while.
Even when he paints, Hardgrave’s angled brushstrokes often mimic the look of stitching or woven fabric. Self-taught except for a graphic design degree from a community college, Hardgrave has formidable drawing skills and his work recalls the brio of flamboyant street art, but he himself is a quiet, low-key character. I asked if he ever worked on street projects, but he just chuckled and said he preferred working alone, in the studio.
Hardgrave also took me to see work by some of his studio neighbors even though they weren’t around. These vibrating, abstract paintings are by Gillian Theobald,
whom I met later at our opening at SEASON.
One of Danielson’s small paintings. A stack of big ones leaned against the wall out in the hallway.
Her paintings, which are heading to Heriard-Cimino
in New Orleans, are thickly layered with flaking fabric and paint. The canvas and stretcher on the right aren’t part of the piece, but they look good together, right?
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