'Study Hall Drawings: New Work by Jenny Hart'
Hart's portraits drawn from a high school yearbook are '2 sweet 2 B 4gotten'
Reviewed by Robert Faires, Fri., May 21, 2010
'Study Hall Drawings: New Work by Jenny Hart'
Domy Books, 913 E. Cesar Chavez
www.domystore.com, Through June 10
Seriously, guys, who gave Jenny Hart my high school yearbook?
'Cause looking at the faces that fill her "Study Hall Drawings," the hairstyles, the smiles, the wispy whispers of hair on the guys' upper lips, and the soulful, youthful eyes are so familiar that I'd swear these were classmates of mine at Forest Park High in Beaumont, Texas.
Now, I know that that can't be, since the press release for the exhibit assures us that these drawings were based on portraits from Ms. Hart's own yearbook, and I was starting high school the year she was born. (I'll go ahead and date myself by saying that as far as I'm concerned, Dazed and Confused was a documentary.) But Hart has captured something here that transcends the gap in our ages, some essence of American adolescent style and attitude in the eighth and ninth decades of the 20th century.
Cultural markers of the era are lovingly rendered in the 15 portraits: aviator glasses huge enough to cover the entirety of one's cheeks (and through which we can spy the freckles that dot Bill's), those did-I-shave-or-didn't-I faint mustaches on the dudes, and, best of all, the thick, layered hair cascading off the kids' heads and down to their shoulders, feathered to a Farrah Fawcett T – boys and girls. (In their side-by-side images, Angie and Jeff look like they could have just come from the same stylist.)
But there's more here than a study in retro fashion. Hart has chosen subjects who project recognizable types from everyone's high school years. Who hasn't known a good-time girl like the grinning Rona, who looks to have been caught by the photographer while shouting "Par-tay!" With his wavy bangs nearly obscuring his smoldering eyes and nonsmile of teen angst, Jerry recalls that classic bad-boy heartthrob that every girl believes she can save. Next to him – also showing no teeth – is Kristin, whose full head of hair, stylishly coiffed; full lips, artfully pursed; and liquid but intent gaze mark her as the studious Goody Two-shoes with no time for trouble. No, that would be provided by Bill, whose thin-lipped, irrepressible grin and tousled hair pointing to the mischievous arch of one eyebrow says class cut-up. Even without his "Iron Maiden" T-shirt, Richard's tall fountain of hair, bushy brows, and thick-lipped half-smile would peg him as a shop-class metalhead. And is Suzanne the class outcast? Her short cut and mature gaze certainly put her out of step with her peers. You can match a type to every one of the figures here, including the lone adult, Mr. McAvoy, whose jowly jawbone, loosened tie and shirt not quite closed around his thick neck, hair parted way too far over on the right, and weighted eyelids suggest the quintessential high school adult who never imagined his life working out this way and probably still sees himself as one of the kids he has to teach or play authority figure to in his administrative office every day. Maybe that slight curl to his lips and daydreamy look – Hart's pencil work splendidly captures expressions and character, with an economy of lines and shading – is McAvoy recalling his own teenage glory days.
And that may be how Hart's "Study Hall Drawings" function best: as a tribute to the heady time when we were just coming alive, with so much time ahead of us, time to form ourselves. It's the springtime of life, and Hart suggests as much with her colored-pencil embroidery around the graphite portraits: curling green vines and stems topped by pink and orange blossoms, blue and black teardrop shapes, red and purple chains, pink and powder-blue hyphenated lines, elaborate curlicues dripping with golden fringe, red and black "X"s. This elaborate faux-stitchery frames the figures like the affectionate doodles on an old textbook cover. It's a time that deserves to be remembered because of the way it shaped who we later became, and in reminding us of that, Hart has created work that is, as we might have penned in a friend's yearbook then, "2 sweet 2 B 4gotten."
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