Dwellings: Laurie Hitzig Explores Shelter and Refuge

Laurie Hitzig, Solitude

Stunning mixed media works by Laurie Hitzig, one of our region’s great talents, forms the inaugural fall exhibition of the Lufrano Gallery on the UNF campus. Partially inspired by a serious injury suffered by someone very close to her, she turned to themes of shelter and refuge. The series titled Dwellings explores inventive and dramatic depictions of nests complemented by a selection of clay birds. 

Hitzig earned an AA from Miami Dade and a BFA from UF. She also studied at the FSU Florence, Italy, campus, the Kansas City Art Institute, and the University of Missouri. She continued her post baccalaureate studies at UNF with Distinguished Professor Louise Freshman Brown who became a dear friend to her and her husband, artist and designer Larry Wilson. The two share a studio at CoRK where they create works often mined from deeply personal matters in a wide range of media. She is represented in numerous corporate and private collections and 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 numerous regional galleries in North Florida.

The idea of exploring shelter led to questions and an internal searching. What does it mean to settle down into a place, to find peace and to experience calm, solace and solitude? We are familiar with the concept of nesting – making a space one’s own. While we associate nests primarily with birds, many animals build nests including spiders, insects, some fish, mammals, turtles and many others, resulting in a wide diversity of both invertebrate and vertebrate nest builders. For Hitzig the nest is a universal symbol of a haven to center oneself and find tranquility in the midst of a chaotic world. Fascinated by real nests she has collected (only those that have fallen from their perches), Hitzig’s renderings do not reflect specific nests but rather symbolic places of comfort, refuge and protection.

In turning to this exhibition, a viewer familiar with Hitzig’s oeuvre (see her impressive website at lauriehitzig.com) may recognize her distinctive palette composed mostly of neutrals: greys, tans and smoky whites but sometimes with a golden hue and often punctuated with carefully calibrated accents of saturated blues or red. Hitzig often works in series demonstrating how a single object or theme can yield a dazzling variety of new approaches thus reflecting the artist’s desire to take a subject and explore it fully. And what a variety there is. She considers herself above all a draftsman and her marks are sure and confident. They both describe form and abstract it. Certainly, these are depictions of nests but they are also records of an emphatic energy that seems to vibrate through Hitzig’s interpretations. 

Laurie Hitzig, Magic

The negative space in every one of the representations is a dynamic presence where the surfaces have been built by adding and subtracting, scratching, layering. Through this process hidden shapes and forms emerge. In many the surrounding spaces may remind the viewer of clouds or sky but in others such as Poem, there are collage elements, vigorous strokes, textural complexities and words barely discernible. The nest itself is punctuated by two small dots of saturated red – accent marks that draw the eye to the promise of protection within. In a number of the works words tease and tempt the viewer to come in closer. What is the message? In Note, one can make out “family,” “special” and “my words.” In Magic, glimpses of syllables come through, including the title. Is this the magic of creativity whether human or avian?

The artist usually works on several images at a time without a preconceived direction. The work itself takes over. Hitzig particularly likes the observation by composer, music theorist, artist and philosopher John Cage (1912-1992), who said about creating: “When you start working, everybody is in your studio — the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas — all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.” While working, Hitzig becomes totally absorbed in the creative process, what athletes refer to as being in the zone … almost a stream of consciousness.

Hitzig sees a parallel between her creative acts and that of the bird as brilliant sculptor and accomplished architect. As birds gather hair, fur, sticks, grass, bits of thread, shiny materials and other small pieces of discarded detritus, so does Hitzig add found objects. The artist notes these elements have had previous lives and functions; they have a history. By incorporating them she gives them another life and allows them to live on. As nest builders construct intuitively and with singular focus so does Hitzig add, subtract, scrape, write and layer. She too is building. Darwin in his On the Origin of Species (1859) observed, “so it is with the nests of birds, which vary partly in dependence on the situations chosen … but often from causes wholly unknown to us.”

Janine Burke, in her book Nest: The Art of Birds, writes, “nest is a word that conjures fundamental notions of home, family, privacy, shelter and rest. What are nests if not art created by nature? If a nest is not art, how can we account for those exquisite, painstakingly, constructed creations that are decorated, or woven through with feathers, or studded with objects of a particular color or sheen?”

Hitzig’s Dwellings is a thought provoking exhibition by an artist in full command of her powers of observation and her highly developed technical skills. Like the birds’ nests in which she has found meaning and wonder, we too can marvel at the beauty and promise of these exquisite, painstakingly, constructed creations.

Dwellings: Mixed Media Works by Laurie Hitzig will be on display August 12 – October 4 at the Lufrano Intercultural Gallery of Art, located in the John A. Delaney Student Union at University of North Florida,

 By Debra Murphy 

Author: Arbus

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