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Hamptons Life

Feb 26, 2018 5:45 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Guild Hall Museum Presents Alice Hope And Hiroyuki Hamada, Two Artists To Watch

The Alice Hope exhibition being installed in the Woodhouse Gallery at Guild Hall.  KYRIL BROMLEY
Feb 27, 2018 10:37 AM

Guild Hall Chief Curator Christina Mossaides Strassfield made two great choices showcasing Hiroyuki Hamada and Alice Hope.

The two were at the top of the list when it came to giving mid-career artists who live and work in the community solo shows. Their exhibitions open this week and run through March 25, and the artists will also give talks on their work.

I visited Mr. Hamada, who will speak on Saturday, March 10, at his studio last week. Artist’s studios are hard to come by on the South Fork but he got lucky when a neighbor on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton sold some land to him on the cheap.

“Materials come in certain sizes so that dictated the space,” he said, sipping coffee out of a thermos. He also used energy efficient SIP panels, passive solar and radiant heat to cut costs. His studio is twice the size of his century-old home, but uses one-third less utilities than his home, which dates back 100 years.

Mr. Hamada started out as a photographer and painter. His work evolved into sculpture and has now made a turn back to one dimensional. The distinct shapes in Mr. Hamada’s work arrest the viewer, whether print or sculpture. In this show, he exhibits one large sculpture and five piezography prints.

The artist learned piezography, a printing method “aimed at making the highly technical steps as intuitive as possible for artists,” from pioneer printmaker Jon Cone. Mr. Hamada utilizes a 44-inch Epson 9880 large format inkjet printer equipped with eight custom, carbon inks, allowing for a larger range of black and white, and a more organic, atmospheric feel. “You can really see it,” he said.

The prints, especially one titled “B14-7,” have a patina, or the illusion of age, you don’t normally find in prints. “It has an element of time, how things have been and will be,” Mr. Hamada said.

In addition to the subtle differences in technique, the prints are hardy. “The longevity is crazy,” he said. Piezography also enables people to own a piece of Mr. Hamada’s artwork, and enables him to complete a piece in a more timely fashion.

The show is unusual for Mr. Hamada because he normally works on 10 to 15 pieces at a time without imposing a deadline on himself, allowing the artwork to evolve over time. “I usually spend a few years for each piece,” he said.

“When I come to the studio I try to be pretty empty and see what materials are saying,” he said of the works-in-progress. “They talk to each other.” In the process, the artist finds fortunate surprises.

His sculptures reflect the time he puts into them. They are strong. They are masculine, and command a weapon-like force and sobriety. To me, at least. Mr. Hamada numbers his works because he doesn’t want any preconceived notions to influence the observer.

He would like his art to take the observer to a profound place, where no logical explanation is needed. “Art can get us to the essence of what we are facing,” he said. “I listen to the materials and let things happen. The process reflects who I am and where we live.”

Mr. Hamada is one of those rare artists who is outspoken, and well spoken, about politics and social justice. He believes our society is held together with money and violence, in a neo-feudalistic structure, where very few hold the power and the rest of the population “try to cling on to dignity and meaning.” It is his hope that the art reflects both the environment and the struggle.

“More Hope” read the sign on the side of Ms. Hope’s van outside Guild Hall last Thursday. Inside, the artist and a handful of assistants help install her work, which will show in a gallery on the opposite side of the museum from Mr. Hamada’s show.

Ms. Hope’s work is in stark contrast too. While both have a foothold in history, Mr. Hamada’s is smooth, sober, quiet. Ms. Hope’s work almost screams, and does seem more hopeful, like jewels in a jewelry box. His work feels solid and primitive while hers feels lighter and has more movement.

Like Mr. Hamada, Ms. Hope does not title her work. All are “Untitled.” They hang on the wall, from the ceiling and sit on the floor. The materials are often repeated yet each work has its own unique properties due to the different methods of attachment.

“Magnetism, stringing, using ball chain, fishing tackle swivel snaps and knotting on marine net to create a more malleable object,” are all methods of attachment that transforms the material. “I just set up conditions for it to happen,” she said.

Two spherical works situated on either side of the formal gallery room, stand out because of their color. One is red and one is blue and they hang on the wall about 6 feet in diameter; however, the tab string comes off the wall from the center and flows onto the floor, the red more so than the blue. Both are made from Budweiser beer can tabs strung on medical IV tubing.

Those pieces coincide with work made from silver Coca-Cola can tabs, showing concurrently in “A Radical Voice: 23 Women,” curated by Janet Goleas at Southampton Arts Center. Each piece holds 17 tabs per inch. It’s hard to calculate the number of tabs used but it’s safe to say, there are hundreds of thousands, which she got from recycling centers.

It’s important to know that the tabs were first popped open by a person who drank the beer or soda, and that those tabs were then collected and redeemed for cash that went to charity before being used to create art. “I’m taking garbage and making it precious,” she said. Sometimes, she actually uses a garbage can.

Do not, however, mistake Ms. Hope for a recycling artist. “I’m more interested in cultural references,” she said. “The first impression doesn’t matter.” Cultural references are very democratic. Everybody has a relationship to them.

The artist, whose work reminds me of the 1960s artist Eva Hesse, uses the can tabs to create something formal. Her exploration of line leads the viewer to ask questions, and tell their own stories. “So many people have stories of can tabs,” she said.

I can only imagine the stories people have to tell when faced with her bed springs, another iconic object used to frame her artwork. Finding materials is like looking for change in a car seat. “You have to dig in,” she said.

Watching the artist work and listening to her talk, I can’t help but think of the element of “emotional attachments” in her work, but she plays coy. “I’m not going to hit the nail on the head,” she said. “I’ll leave it to the imagination.”

Hear more about Ms. Hope’s work at her Guild Hall gallery talk on Saturday, March 24. She’ll also hold an adult class on Thursday, March 22, at the Southampton Arts Center in Southampton Village where attendees will string can tabs on IV tubing to create their own artwork.

Watch for her show “Heavy Metal: Women to Watch 2018” at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington. D.C., June 28 to September 16. “How many women can say they are a ‘Woman to Watch?’ she joked. “All women are women to watch.”

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