For Better or For Worse
Be sure to visit the current show of photographs by the renowned artist Jane Hilton at Solaris Gallery in Norman Road, St Leonards. Gareth Stevens pays a visit and talks with the show’s curator, Alexandra Drawbridge.
When I meet Alexandra Drawbridge, she tells me just how delighted they are to be showing Jane Hilton’s work as their first post-lockdown show. She is busy hanging the large-scale photographs, working out the best positions and clearly has a heartfelt admiration for this artist’s work.
When Solaris invited Hilton to exhibit there, both artist and gallery declined the opportunity to draw from the photographer’s wider oeuvre in which she has produced portraits of people from communities such as cowboys, working girls, burlesque dancers, drag queens, gun club members and circus folk, in favour of focussing on a body of work that seems more poignant and pertinent to the times we now find ourselves in. For Better or For Worse is a series of vacant wedding altars photographed in Nevada in the 90s. The exhibition is a fine example of when a curator and artist come together and make creative and productive decisions that add value and drive the viewing experience beyond the obvious.
The Hitching Post
CREDIT: Jane Hilton
“This show feels appropriate right now,” says Hilton. Whilst in Las Vegas in the 1990s, photographing over a hundred couples who were tying the knot, she became fascinated by the small stand-alone chapels often located inside some of the casinos downtown on the strip. “When I photographed these Wedding Chapels in the 90s, the industry was booming,” she explains.
“I was excited by how kitsch the chapel interiors were and how they epitomised a sense of fun and amusement in this McDonald’s-style wedding culture.” When these images – that are devoid of any protagonists – are repositioned in a post 9/11, pandemic-torn world, they become elegiac and mournful. They speak volumes of the deflation of the American dream and the parallel demise of hedonism that Covid has brought about. Whilst capturing places that are usually synonymous with connection, hope and happiness, they are deeply disquieting and eerie images – and even have some element of the corrosive menace that David Lynch’s films are
steeped in. That said, they are also starkly beautiful and there is a lushness and detail to the prints that invites us to appreciate them at close hand – to lean in as if you were examining the brushwork of a master painter.
Hilton explains that “American Culture has been through a massive lobectomy in the last few years, and the American Dream is fighting for survival. With massive corporations having more power than the President, the fallout in communities resonates. Standing in front of these altars looking at the heart of this culture, becomes more provocative.”
The Angel Chapel
CREDIT: Jane Hilton
I found these images deeply moving. As well as being drenched in melancholia, they also pronounce a subtle yet stern indictment of the frivolity and superficiality of late twentieth century America. The photographs politely invite us to dig deeper in order to find meaning. These photographs are Mandalas with which to contemplate ‘What next?’ … and to help us to consider how we can live life better.
Solaris doubles as a printer specialising in Fine Art and Photographic giclée printing. Run by creative people, their service is based on first-hand understanding of artists’ needs and a knowledge of contemporary art.
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