Hegarty’s artwork is a little disorienting at first. When approaching her pieces, they first appears to be extremely damaged historical artifacts that have been overtaken by nature or natural disaster. Upon closer inspection, we can see that this “damage” is Hegarty’s expert ability to create the look of singed canvas, waterlogged wood, or overgrown foliage.
New Yorkers could see an example of her style of depicting branches growing through a canvas, with her piece “Autumn on the Hudson Valley with Branches,” that hangs outside on a fence on the High Line Park. Set within the lush backdrop of the High Line, the branches emerging through the shredded canvas seems like a beautiful accident, harmonizing with the park.
Hegarty’s new pieces continue this process using recycled materials. Entitled “West Rock with Branches,” a large landscape painting greets visitors as they enter her studio. As if to return to the Earth, the frame of the painting morph seamlessly into twisted tree branches that coil around each other below the painting, as if the landscape were a living, growing being.
Two of her new pieces have a nautical theme, using techniques to emulate water damage. The frame of a painting of big sailed ships deteriorates before our eyes, the painting slashed much like the damage sails endure on the high seas. More impressively, the artist has transformed a massive used wooden wardrobe into a detailed relic that appears to have spent many years on the ocean’s floor. Faux barnacles and decay adorn the piece, enlivening our imaginations of the decadent ship that once held the armoire.
In the center of the room is perhaps the most striking piece, comprised of a painting hung over a vintage coffee table. As if caught in a massive, melting fire, the painting is singed almost in two, dripping onto the table below which has also been split and melted. The piece is at once powerful, but also inspires an incredible possibility of narratives.
Valerie Hegarty has the fantastical ability to create artistic beauty in the form of decay. Her unique works are gorgeous, but also evoke history, tragedy, and wonder, leaving the viewer with much to ponder. Hegarty’s work is currently on view at Marlborough Gallery in Chelsea through May 5, 2012.
Images ©Lori Zimmer for Inhabitat