Juxtaposition: Laurie Hitzig & Larry Wilson
Definitions of Juxtaposition, the title of the exhibition by husband and wife team Larry Wilson and Laurie Hitzig, include “an act or instance of placing close together or side by side” and “the state of being close together.” It is an evocative title for the exhibition of recent works at the UNF Gallery at MOCA by a couple who share close studio quarters at the CoRK complex creating deeply personal works that are informed by life experiences that encompass and reflect the many aspects of our common humanity.
Individually, both artists have impressive careers and exhibition histories. Each is represented in numerous corporate and private collections. Hitzig’s work has been featured in exhibitions at the University of Mobile, the Fine Arts Council of Montgomery, the Wyoming Arts Council, the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach, the Cummer Museum of Art and Gardens and MOCA Jacksonville, in addition to all of the important regional galleries of North Florida. Wilson too has an impressive and consistent exhibition résumé with his works being included in juried, solo, and group shows almost every year from 1983 to the present. His work has been included in the All Florida Biennial at the Polk Museum of Art, several times in the Suwannee Valley Regional, and also in Mobile, Montgomery, and Wyoming and throughout the region and the state.
Both artists have degrees in design. Wilson earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Florida’s College of Architecture while Hitzig earned an Associate of Arts from Miami Dade College. She also studied at the Florida State University Florence, Italy, campus, the Kansas City Art Institute, the University of Missouri, and earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UF. Both continued their post baccalaureate studies at UNF with Distinguished Professor Louise Freshman Brown.
Hitzig is currently exploring several bodies of work in mixed media on paper as well as clay sculptures. Birds figure prominently in her work. In Mind’s Eye, she presents a crow or raven (the artist acknowledges they are different but often conflates them) that appears to be a sagacious patriarch or prophet. Hitzig is drawn to the tradition in Native American lore where crows are wise and brilliant messengers. For many tribes, the intelligence of the crow is the bird’s most important feature. As Christopher M. Moreman notes in his study “On the Relationship between Birds and Spirits of the Dead,” birds are also commonly associated with life, fertility, and longevity; and there is an abundance of “cross-cultural evidence for the practically universal associations between birds and both life and death,” he says.
The suggestions of feathers and volume are achieved by sure marks and a rich surface texture realized by charcoal, acrylic, and pastel. Upon close inspection, the viewer will find words written into the surface and a red dot near the bird’s eye. The latter is found in a number of the artist’s works and she explains that it’s a mark of the journey and the creative process. It’s almost like a drop of blood signifying the work is complete. Hitzig sees the image in Mind’s Eye “as the overseer of it all; she is my guide, spokesman, and adviser to my thoughts and direction.”
She is also interested in the concept of shapeshifting, the ability of a being or form to transform into another. In Portrait of Self, the viewer finds a sculpture of a nude female with a bird’s head and wings instead of arms. She could be a deity or a goddess in her archetypal presence. Another work on paper in the CoRK studio shows a bird on the head of a woman whose face was only half realized. Is the bird a part of the head, a headdress or thoughts emanating? Hitzig deliberately relies on ambiguity to allow the viewer ample room for interpretation.
Another series is a group of hand-knitted wire dress forms that may call to mind a fine chain mail. Hitzig sees these as representing women’s “inner struggles, strength, and search for understanding.” Bones, wood, and other found objects are incorporated into these tunics. The delicacy of the light mesh web evokes stereotypes of the feminine, since knitting is usually associated with women’s work, but there are also subtle reminders of strength and resiliency. In considering these most current creations, Hitzig reflects that “the crows, figures, and shapeshifters are all part of my search of self and place in the world, and the wire dresses … bring the woman's voice into play.”
While Hitzig’s mixed media creations resonate with considerations of spirituality, femininity, and feminism, Wilson’s powerful sculptures explore the strengths and vulnerabilities of the masculine. Born and raised in Miami, Wilson was one of seven children. As a child he was always making something and was constantly encouraged by his mother. In fact, she enrolled him in an adult education class in art and they both attended. His artistic productions over the years have often been site-specific installations, but he was compelled more recently to return to the figure. He experimented with carving, particularly in wood, but found the process to be tedious and slow. Wilson moved to clay and describes himself as a student again as he revels in the nuances and representative possibilities of the medium.
Wilson enjoyed great success with his Tribe series, a grouping of twelve ceramic half figures resting on plinths or stands, beautifully carved from Florida cypress. These were installed in the Jacksonville Public Library on Hemming Plaza as part of the inaugural One Spark event in 2013. In their uniform whiteness, a nod to Roman busts, each figure has its own narrative and specific suggestions that reflect facets of the artist’s life and experiences. As Wilson has noted, the Tribe figures morphed into the Warrior series, which are “bigger and gutsier” and enhanced with color. Wilson observes that we all have to be warriors for something or for someone. Sometimes we have to be bold and courageous and strong, even to meet the pressures and demands of modern life and day-to-day living.
Wilson is also making Fish Men. He was so taken by the vulnerability of his mother when she experienced an illness that the old saying of “fish out of water” came to him. He thought of a fish gasping for air and fighting for life. These figures may hold a fish like one would a baby or the fish may be draped across a torso. The fish do not represent a specific type but a fictional species that can be linked to compassion, responsibility, and succor.
Another group of fantastic creations emerging from the hands and imagination of Wilson are the Magic Men. Enlivened and enhanced by found objects such as metal scraps, nails, bits of screen, and other detritus found on the grounds around the CoRK complex, these figures conjure sorcerers or perhaps players from a futuristic Commedia dell’arte troupe. Wilson intends these figures to be confirming, for “all of us have magic moments.”
When Hitzig and Wilson embarked upon creating the works for the UNF Gallery at MOCA exhibition, they didn’t plan for their themes to reflect the feminine and masculine in overt ways. Yet, the pair often works symbiotically and despite the differences in their use of materials and the exploration of subject matter, their works are characterized by an intense sensitivity to universal themes of identity and love and the existential questions of life and death. Their search for meaning in masterfully realized drawings and sculptures provides a profound Juxtaposition, indeed.
Juxtaposition: Laurie Hitzig and Larry Wilson will be on display Sept. 2 – Nov. 2 in the UNF Gallery at MOCA, 333 North Laura St. Opening reception on Sept. 4 from 6–8 p.m. is free and open to the public. For information see www.unf.edu/gallery/Upcoming_ Exhibit or call 620-4037 or 620-2534.