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Catherine Haggarty’s call to memory

Catherine Haggarty, Home in the Mountains, 2020, oil stick and airbrush on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Contributed by Zach Seeger / Catherine Haggarty belongs to a group of New York painters who blossomed between financial crisis of 2008 and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, bracketed by Zombie Formalism and the current wave of figuration. Artists of her vintage tend to be inspired by the likes of Peter Acheson, Katherine Bradford, Rick Briggs, and Chris Martin, whose formal and intuitive explorations of paint are deeply rooted in the history of New York painting. I myself have known Haggarty for years. In 2016, my gallery partner and I showed her paintings in a tiny space in Dumbo. In addition to being extraordinarily talented, she is dedicated and industrious, continually pushing her work forward. These qualities are manifest in her new paintings, now on display at Massey Klein Gallery on the Lower East Side.

Catherine Haggarty, 3 Dolphins, 2020, oil stick and airbrush on canvas, 54 x 38 inches

The new work is centrally about athleticism and memory. Objectively speaking, the paintings lyrically present forms that resemble animals and marks scratched in charcoal and flint on the walls of Chauvet and Lascaux caves – letters, numbers and glyphs that could function as traces of human record and a sort of pre-history. But they are also something much more personal and autobiographical, deep dives into collective experience that also reflect the need to share that recollection. The layered, sometimes gauzy effect of the paint converts technically sophisticated canvases to visually simple forms that flicker and swell, presenting themselves as pulsating reminders of what it is to be human: to feel and experience images.

Catherine Haggarty, Pitter Patter, 2020, oil stick and fluid acrylic on canvas, 45 x 36 inches

The paintings bring to mind the films of Stan Brakhage and Andrei Tarkovsky. Part creation myth, part lyrical poetry, their movies and Haggarty’s paintings transcend their respective mediums and have the feel of embedded memories. Much like the character Snout in Tarkovsky’s Solaris, who places cut paper on the ventilation system of a space station to remind him of the flow of nature on earth, Haggarty’s paintings embrace abstraction but keep us from drifting too far into it before guiding us back to baseline reality.

Catherine Haggarty, Kit Kat Steps, 2020, oil stick and fluid on canvas, 16 x 20 inches

She achieves this sublime effect through paint handling that is athletic – not in the traditional gestural sense, but in the way of a virtuoso gym-rat, by dint of daily practice, perseverance, and innovation, through assiduously honing each painting. In How in the Mountains, sprayed paint flutters forms past our eyes as we sink to the bottom of a deep digital lake. In Kit Kat Steps, a bird’s footprints traipse around the outside of the frame, and it taps us on the shoulder as we stare into the hazy abyss of a crystal ball or a clouded mirror.

Catherine Haggarty, installation view at Massey Klein

Haggarty wants us not only to see but also to remember. She is standing beside us, painting as our guide. Like Chagall, whose dreamy paintings registered both nostalgia and the necessity of remembering the past, Haggarty hopes, in these paintings, that the joy and dignity of humanity are not forgotten.

Catherine Haggarty: An Echo’s Glyph,” Massey Klein Gallery, 124 Forsyth Street, NYC. Through January 30, 2021.

About the author: Zach Seeger is a painter, sculptor, and writer who works in Brooklyn, New York. He has exhibited at Arts + Leisure and Freight + Volume (New York), Baby Blue Gallery (Chicago), and Casa Broncos (Zurich). 

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Related posts:
Body parts: Clarity Haynes, Catherine Haggarty and Ginny Casey
Responses to “Zombie Formalism”
Lovable: Chris Martin at Anton Kern
Artists’ spaces: The Painting Center

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