intimacy of drawing: Occhiogrosso’s I’m OK #2.
Like I Like I Like
Drawings by Gina Occhiogrosso
Sable Gallery, through Jan. 27
Someday is an optimistic word. “Someday,” as opposed to “perhaps”
or “never,” indicates that at an indefinite future time something
will certainly happen. Picture that same word in the rosy
glow of pink neon. Perfect for this time of year, Gina Occhiogrosso’s
neon sign Someday dangles in the shop window of the
gallery and beckons us inside. Like the little match girl,
we stand out in the cold staring at the bright, optimistic
light, dreaming of love, warmth, and joy.
her rose-colored reference, Occhiogrosso is no Pollyanna.
Her optimism emerges as an antidote to her inner struggle
with life’s everyday failures and rejections. She earnestly
attempts to convert her melancholy into something positive,
and she does so with a dollop of humor. Those familiar with
her work will remember her cross-stitch drawings and embroidery
using the phrase “I Try” and her manipulations of Disneyfied
fairy tales. In this exhibition, Occhiogrosso continues her
quest for perfection with the phrase “I’m ok.” She uses repetitive
phrases like a mantra as a way to control her obsessive thoughts.
While she strives for calm and healing, she claims that her
phrases are part mantra, part hysteria. Instead of serenity,
the making of her work often elicits more anxiety. Like a
repetitive stress injury, the phrases sometimes burn into
her consciousness, making it hard to relax. Even so, she returns
to the studio and strives for what remains elusive: fortune,
pleasure, true love, a masterpiece. Her personal struggles
here become public spectacle and her vulnerabilities are exposed.
Occhiogrosso’s graphite-and-colored-pencil drawings here come
in two sizes and depict lace doilies and cross-stitch patterns.
The three largest works appear like mandalas. They each magnify
a different doily, turning what otherwise would seem precious
and delicate into something iconic. Ordinarily, doilies are
placed underneath more important objects. But when Occhiogrosso
looks at them, she thinks about who made them and the craft,
attention, focus, and effort it took. The best of the three
larger drawings is almost completely frayed and unraveled.
It is a reflection of the wear and tear of everyday life.
Like Dickens’ Miss Haversham, it glories in its own defeat,
wearing its scars like a badge of honor.
In this particular show, Occhiogrosso focuses on drawing as
a way to transition back to painting. Drawing helps her work
through ideas, images, and space. And there is an intimacy
to making a drawing that is not the same in painting. The
artist Matthew Ritchie, in a 2005 interview in the PBS series
Art:21, explained that “a painting becomes a very static
fixed thing, but a drawing, you can make it three- dimensional,
you can make it flat, you can turn it into a sphere, you can
just keep pushing it, and pushing it, and pushing it, because
all it is is information, it’s just a bunch of marks.” Occhiogrosso
also pushes her drawings. Some are symmetrical, others off
kilter; some are black-and-white, others in color; some flat,
others sculptural. On one wall of the gallery she has placed
133 small works in adjoining rows. She uses ordinary 8 1/2
x 11 paper. These small drawings reflect her usual themes
but in a way that is more playful. Often made in one sitting,
they are more gestural and experimental and less controlled.
They are full of possibility. For Occhiogrosso, they show
moments of joy and moments of failure, but most of all they
are suggestive of what might happen next, someday soon . .
Hapa Project: Portraits by Kip Fulbeck
Gallery, Nott Memorial, Union College, through Feb. 3
In the process of weeding out some old files recently, I happened
upon a July 1994 issue of Cinevue, a publication of
Asian CineVision. It was opened to an essay by Kip Fulbeck.
Since I had just seen The Hapa Project: Portraits by Kip
Fulbeck, this discovery was rather fortuitous. It’s not
clear to me now why I kept this particular essay, but I’m
sure it had something to do with the fact that it was the
’90s, when identity politics were in vogue. It was written
a year after the notorious 1993 Whitney Biennial and was indicative
of what people in the art world were exploring and debating
at the end of the millennium.
In the essay, titled “Thought Flights of a Hapa Artist: An
Essay of Anger and Frustration,” Fulbeck vents about his irritation
with labels. Being of mixed heritage, he begins by vehemently
refusing to explain what hapa means and carries on a diatribe
about prejudice, xenophobia, and tokenism. It is refreshing
to see that 13 years later Fulbeck’s ideas have flourished
into a mature body of work. The Hapa Project is about
not being able to fit into nice, neat ethnic categories. Beginning
in 2001, Fulbeck photographed 1,200 volunteers and asked them
to self-designate their ethnic heritage as a portrait of 21st-century
America. Each piece shows a person from the shoulders up without
any extraneous identifiers such as clothing or jewelry. Below
the image, the person has written a response to the question:
“What are you?” And below that is printed the different ethnicities
that comprise the person’s particular genealogy.
For the record, the word Hapa is derived from the Hawaiian
word for “half.” It is slang for someone who is half Hawaiian
and half haole, or someone who is mixed with partial roots
in Asian and/or Pacific Islander ancestry.
While Fulbeck’s method of combining image with text is reminiscent
of artists doing similar work in the politically correct ’90s,
his ideas are, alas, no less relevant today. Despite the fact
that a person of mixed heritage is running for U.S. president,
there is no shortage of racism, bigotry, and xenophobia in
American culture at present. The Hapa Project reminds
us that the multicultural mix that is America is one of its