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By J. Taylor Basker

 

 

Westbeth Gallery held a remarkable retrospective exhibit of the collages and assemblages of its long-term resident, Joan Hall. Entitled “Themes and Dreams.” The Gallery became a vortex into the secret lives of objects, that Hall both conceals and reveals in 100 works—some compressed into boxes, others floating in space or hovering off walls. Her exhibit was not just to view, but to experience the mysteries of inanimate objects that vibrate, although still, that speak, although mute, that embrace, although petrified.

Joan Hall With Box Construction “Girl with Puppy.”  Photo by Salem Krieger, 2023
Joan Hall. Parroquin Dreams 20, 2016. Paper Collage, 19”x15.” Photo by Joan Hall.

Hall created mini worlds in boxes that turn into alternate realities. Here the strange laws of the physics of atoms prevail over human logic. According to quantum physics, everything is composed of countless atoms, charged with energy, attracted to each other and interchangeable. Hall thus juxtaposes unlike objects as a vertebra, old photos and lace, creating a dialogue that both perplexes and enchants the viewer. Her background in theater and dance enabled her to construct small stages in compressed boxes for these dramatic encounters of found objects that are alien but somehow magically allied. She evokes the work of the great surrealists Joseph Cornell and Marcel Duchamp, in her mischievous manipulations of material forms.

Her Paris Project began her obsession with found objects. While wandering through the Parisian Flea market, she discovered an art student’s drawings of objects. She then searched the market for the objects, created assemblages of her discoveries, later adding her own drawings as well. These were well received, and she then continued to use assemblage as her primary art form. She understood the power of the object itself as a means of creative communication. Isolated from its normal environment, it creates a dynamism of thought that triggers shock, awe, and wonder in the viewer.

Some of her object assemblages she calls icons. Here she combines natural with man-made objects to create archetypal figures, using her theater training in Mime to elicit the essence of characters with the simplest forms. There is a restrained balance to her arrangements, which are both lyrical and graceful. She freezes movement, preserving dramatic impact in constrained space.

Joan Hall. “Childhood Dream,” Mixed-Media Assemblage, 12”x10”x6”, 1971.  Photo by Joan Hall.

While much of her work is in subdued, natural tones, color explodes in her collages entitled “Parroquin Dreams,” inspired by the great Neo-Gothic church of the Parroquin in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, whose numerous pink spires soar like spears of its namesake, St. Michael the Archangel, dedicated to protection against evil, and delivery into heaven. Hall’s collages create fantasies that lift spirits into celestial spheres of swirling forms and colors. Her Mexico “Mi Amor” series on Mexican landmarks repeats this kaleidoscope of colors in collage. 

Missing from the exhibit is the large illustration that won a 1980 Omni Magazine competition for an image predicting the year 2000. Her image depicted the WTC towers with wings ascending into heaven! In August, the month before 9/11 she did a collage with a student that showed a plane headed into the Towers, next to a white-robed figure with arms raised These powerful works presaged the 9/11 event and were featured in my film on 9/11 New York Artists and 9/11 on YouTube. Her Omni piece disappeared in a shared artists space in Westbeth while she was travelling, when some artists cleared it out to create a sculpture space. Hall’s psyche seems uncannily connected to events both in the past and in the future. Her artistic vision is that of a seer who transcends her own time and space.

Although born in Brooklyn, Joan Hall’s travels and international experiences manifest a global creativity that she playfully turned into The Parcel Project where mixed media parcels were sent to her from all over the world, with an image of a landmark. Her desire for communication and interaction with the viewer is seen in Jill’s Room where mixed-media create three boxes acting as rooms that use mirrors to reflect the viewer as well as create an illusion of infinite space.

Joan Hall bewitches us. Perhaps in a previous time, she would have been accused of witchcraft. Fortunately, today this sorceress is free to work her magic on us and we delight in the spells cast on us through her skillful use of objects, perhaps not dragon claws or spider threads, but bones, lace and antique photos.

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