The Dot of the Polka
Stacy Hawkinson's Solo Show at the Downtown Contemporary Art Center
By Steven Robert Allen
Stacy Hawkinson is a big fan of the polka dot. As you walk up the wide stairs just inside the entrance of the Downtown Contemporary Art Center (105 Fourth Street SW), the first thing you'll see are brightly painted Styrofoam balls floating above your head like strange interplanetary fruit. Once you get to the top of the stairs, you'll notice brightly colored dots bouncing through the entire exhibit.
The first actual art you encounter is Hawkinson's whimsical charcoal portrait of Jack Kerouac, positioned directly opposite the entrance. A separate square canvas covered with red, yellow, green and white polka dots sticks to the bottom left corner, and the name "Jack Kerouac" has been painted in outlined yellow cartoon letters to the right of this square. Drippy, painterly blue, white and yellow smears float around Kerouac's head like unformed Zen nonthoughts or, depending on your mood, clouds of technicolor marijuana smoke.
As is true of so many pieces in this sunny solo show, "Jack Kerouac" is somehow both technically experimental and cheerfully accessible. A spirit of optimism seems to pervade most of Hawkinson's work. (Is there anything less depressing than a polka dot?) Heavily influenced by '80s artists like the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, Hawkinson's paintings also have a kind of retro Pop Art feel to them. Many combine images and icons from the '50s with child-like, even childish, elements.
The lower panel of "Polka Dots on Vintage Legs" depicts two pairs of stylish ladies' legs on an orange background with white polka dots. You can see the ladies' shoes, calves and skirts, but the second, larger panel at the top obscures their torsos. The top panel's background—with its bouncing balls, kitties, doggy bones and fire hydrants—looks like wallpaper on a child's bedroom. A big white cartoon bubble occupies the middle of the image and the entire thing is overlaid with a matrix of ... yup, you guessed it, polka dots. This piece, like so many others in the show, emanates a soothing sense of unconventional but happy domesticity.
A pair of female nudes hanging in the southern hallway make me think of June Cleaver in an untelevised erotic moment, simultaneously amiable and refined. Even Hawkinson's devils look friendly and unthreatening. "Devil's Grin" shows a smiling, clean-cut Satan dressed in a sharp blue suit like some kind of horned and barbed '50s sitcom dad. The top half of this image incorporates a photocopy of dance instructions. The lower half, beneath Satan's feet, consists of floating, colored squares, polka dots squeezed into angular tiles on the floor of some groovy satanic disco. This Prince of Darkness looks polite enough to take home to your mama.
"Lucifer," another two-panel piece, depicts a fetching young vintage lady—apparently naked—grinning flirtatiously through a thin veneer of splotches, streaks and paint rings. At the bottom right, another handsome devil, this one blonde in a sharp brown suit, barbed tail erect, is really excited about something. (Probably the naked lady.) His feet extend down into a smaller panel at the bottom, and he's surrounded by several colored hearts. Several paintings in this show present this same kind of goofy sexiness that never stoops to creepy perversity.
Hawkinson's playful, almost innocent, work puts the fun back in modern art, and it looks fantastic in this expansive, well-lighted space. The Downtown Contemporary Art Center, formerly Fort 105 Studios, remains a great place to see an exhibit. Hawkinson's solo show aims to please and hits the polka dot bull's eye dead center.
An exhibit featuring paintings by Stacy Hawkinson runs through Nov. 1 at the Downtown Contemporary Art Center (105 Fourth Street SW). 242-1983.
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