Boston-based artist Katrine Hildebrandt Hussey presents “Vessel”, his solo exhibition currently at Soap Box Arts in Burlington, with a confessional artist statement. She has produced the show’s work over the past year, she writes, as a way to overcome the depression she has felt throughout her lifetime and especially during the pandemic. In his own words, “The work became visual mantras and metaphors for the challenges I encountered.”
Mantras can be vehicles of healing, while metaphors illustrate something – in Hildebrandt-Hussey’s case, the challenge of feeling ’empty and hollow’. The exhibition reminded this critic of another artist, Agnes Martin (1912-2004), the lonely minimalist painter whose precise graphite grids helped her cope with her mental illness even as they expressed that struggle.
The 15 works on paper by Hildebrandt-Hussey, however, are distinctly his. On the one hand, she created their repeating lines, spaced at precise intervals, with a wood pen with an electric tip. This tool is more commonly used by sculptors – and, in fact, the artist received her MFA in sculpture from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. To create these pieces, she traced her pencil drawings using a compass and other tools, then drew (or rather burnt) each line freehand like a painter.
A training in sculpture could also explain Hildebrandt-Hussey’s interest in the illusion of three-dimensionality. In “Aligned Bend,” one of the smaller works in the exhibition measuring 11.5 by 13.5 inches framed, repeated circles arranged in a semicircle evoke the shape of an arched slinky toy.
“Tunnel” – among the larger 46 x 64 inch framed works – appears to represent exactly that, although it is made up entirely of separate circles superimposed at specific intervals. These give the illusion of a tube, open at both ends and arranged in a series of geometric bends.
In her work, Hildebrandt-Hussey keeps color to a minimum: burnt brown lines on white paper and, sometimes, lighter brown lines. These turn out to be reeds, pinned to the paper at exactly spaced intervals with bits of thread. Scorched lines are not as precise; Brown “spots” appear where the artist’s firm hand slows down or presses infinitely. These imperfections add a sort of visual texture.
Some works are entirely made of reed. “Flex,” for example, bends seven parallel reeds into a river-like formation. In some pieces, such as “Channel Through”, reed lines are laid over burnt lines, creating intricate intersections. The reeds of “Sift”, superimposed on a pattern of burnt-line triangles, are so precisely joined in circles that it is impossible to spot their ends.
Soapbox Arts owner Patricia Trafton has held colorful exhibitions in her White Box Gallery since it opened in March 2019. Among the 16 artists she represents are Wylie Garcia, an intrepid experimenter of color, and Will Gebhard, which produced bold graphic abstractions at the Bauhaus. – like color schemes. For the work of Hildebrandt-Hussey, Trafton first painted two accent walls. Their dense gray effectively emphasizes neutral-toned works and emphasizes the emphasis on form and repetition.
“I want color [in the work] would be entertaining, ”Trafton said on a visit.
Unlike the grids, which suggest stasis, the Hildebrandt-Hussey motifs convey an impression of movement: waves, channels, tubular paths. Patterns can be as calming to the viewer as they seemingly were to the artist. “Breathe”, for example, evokes the lungs with its two vertical lines of ovals, their tops oriented so that they seem to rest against each other.
Or the grounds may seem less optimistic. “Wound & Bound” is a large work whose concentric ovals resemble a multi-lane track seen from above. On each straight line, the artist has added layers of curved S-lines that appear to tie or grab the oval shape by its sides.
The artwork may be intended to evoke the circularity and suffocating grip of the existence of a pandemic, or it may signal the takeover of that madness. Either way, viewers will likely relate to the artist’s need to take action – and share the results of her practice.
“We are all vessels that require love and kindness, empathy and joy,” writes Hildebrandt-Hussey. And, one might add, art.