at Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles (through 11 February 2023)
Reviewed by Eve Wood
Glenn Hardy’s second solo exhibition, aptly title Who Am I If I Don’t Represent? — at Charlie James Gallery in LA’s Chinatown — comprises a visual investigation into the complex nature of black identity while also standing as positive visual documents of daily activities, personal victories, triumphs, and moments of deep introspection as well. Hardy is a master of the nuanced narrative, telling stories of seemingly ordinary occurrences, like playing basketball, for instance, or drinking Pina Coladas in the pool, or enjoying a day in the sun at a family reunion. Yet beneath the surface of these apparent innocuous actions is, on the part of the artist, an abiding commitment to social justice. Deeply affected by the barrage of negative images that horribly misrepresent the black experience within social media, Hardy has chosen to amplify the positive aspects of his own lived human experience, declaring a personal and communal commitment to reassert his personal identity and to “live unapologetically and without fear” within today’s troublingly present moment.
While Hardy’s images are largely positive and life affirming – showcasing friends and family members living their best lives, laughing, embracing and supporting one another – his figures also operate within the scope of the natural world, and one has the sense that the lives he represents here, though clearly existing within a controlled urban landscape, are bounded by the living world where impossibly green trees and endless blue skies become a symbol for independence, freedom, and self-expression.
His palette is dominated with cool colors — blues, greens and grays, with the occasional pink and red punctuating a deeply personal composite of the surrounding landscape. Even when the action takes place indoors, nature is represented, as in the painting Make Your Next Move Your Best Move, where a young black man sits in front of a chess board, his gaze fixed on the viewer while behind him sits a small tree, the green fronds of which reach out in his direction, implying connection. Green as a color suggests new beginnings, and Hardy further solidifies this luminous correlation by placing a small floating green orb next to the young man’s head, most likely a result of the refracted light coming-in through the window. The young man’s pose in combination with his gaze suggests an invitation, as though he is soliciting us as viewers to not only experience a game of chess, but to also engage with him on a personal level – to step into his world and prepare to be amazed.
Color in other images is used more traditionally, such as Untitled, where a group of people are seen enjoying an afternoon in the pool, raising their drinks, carefree and smiling. Yet even here, amidst the blow-up pink flamingos and the Botticelli-like clamshell rafts, small fish, turtles, and jellyfish frolic beneath the surface of the water. It’s a pool party to be sure, but it’s also a divine moment of aquatic connection to the natural world.
In almost every image in the exhibition, the gaze functions as a singular point of entry. For example, in Rocking Chairs on Porches, a young black man stands with his head cocked leftwards, as though in deep thought as he gazes out past the viewer. Again, this image, as with others, constitutes an exploration into longing and self-determination, the visual vernacular suggesting a narrative of deep family union, the surrounding space punctuated with the quotidian rocking chair on an old wooden porch. Yet the expression on the young man’s face combined, with the vaguely awkward stance, also conveys a desire for something other, or something more. And here as well, the blooming flowers beside him again create a correlation between nature and the desire for self expression.
Hardy’s paintings have much in common with many other young artists working today, such as Amoako Boafo, Dominic Chambers. Noah Davis is a particular influence, as are the likes of Kerry James Marshall and even Kehinde Wiley. Like these artists, Hardy mines territories of personal responsibility, identity, and an ever-expanding humanity for lived experience as it relates to the importance of black lives.
It is his series of portraits, however, entitled Combs, Fros and Flowers, that truly encapsulate the expansive narrative impulse of the show. Here again is the conflation of experience with nature, wherein an entire series of straightforward portraits of young men and women against dark backgrounds are punctuated with falling blooms; which begs the question: are these blooms the blessings from the Gods, or are they tangible proof of a life well lived? Either way, the flowers convey a timeless wisdom, as well as a beauty both internal and external, aligning the figures in the foreground with the springing of new life and all that is truly beneficent.
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Featured Image: Glenn Hardy, Long Time. No See. 2022.
Courtesy of the artist and Charlie James Gallery. Photo: Yubo Dong / ofstudio.
Eve Wood is Los Angeles Art Critic for Riot Material Magazine. Ms. Wood’s poetry and art criticism have appeared in many magazines and journals including Artillery, Whitehot, Art & Cake, The New Republic, The Denver Quarterly, Triquarterly, Flash Art, Angelino Magazine, New York Arts, The Atlantic Monthly, Artnet.com, Artillery, Tema Celeste, Art Papers, ArtUS, Art Review, and LatinArt.com. She is the author of five books of poetry. Also an artist, her work has been exhibited at Susanne Vielmetter and Western Project and Tiger Strikes Asteroid in New York. Wood is currently represented by Track 16 Gallery in Los Angeles.