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Tire Iron 44: Rachel Hecker

It’s her best show ever: gone are the half-obscured figures and cryptic, wiseass inscriptions; Hecker’s heart is on her sleeve. Loss, despair, anger, and confusion are spelled out in crystal clear statements, given depth and subtlety by sensitive precision cartooning and spot-on technique.

Sad and Pissed, installation view (east wall)

Two giant salon-style clouds of paintings narrate the tragedy, once again making swell use of the new, de-booked Texas Gallery. Now only the dining table needs to go. Perhaps it’s sculpture, by an old and half-cynical definition: it’s the thing you bump into as you back away from the art.

All the art world knows about Hecker’s breakup with her longtime sweetheart, so figuring out the cast of characters in the sad paintings isn’t hard: Hecker is the black kitty; her ex is the ducky; the pirate is the Other Man (see Artlies #31 for details). The two pirate paintings summarize the basic story: in Is There A Pulse a scowling pirate points a smoking gun at the dying kitty, the ducky still perched on her ear; in Now We Can Go Shopping, a happy pirate brandishes the kitty’s skewered heart on his sword, scooping up his ducky-prize with his other hand. Love and loss, but strangely without betrayal. It’s all the pirate’s fault.

Hecker accurately charts the stations on the heartbreak railroad: it’s a trail of sadness punctuated by hot, futile, outbursts. Stunned disbelief in Souvenir Painting #1, loss in Saying Goodbye, helplessness in Drowning and Asking For Help, sympathy-seeking in Finding Solace in Friends, rehashing old mistakes in Imagining a Reconciliation That couldn’t Happen and at the end of the line, facing an uncertain and lonely future in Saying Goodbye to Myself As I knew Me. It’s self indulgent, but that’s the prerogative of grief. Sad and pissed paintings commingle, but don’t mix. The pissed paintings are simpler; no mutilated pirates or squashed duckies, just puffs of angry expletives: Bitch! Liar! Rat! Pig!, chunks of flying rock and shooting stars, all confined in tight, square boxes.

Updating the pre-Raphaelites, Hecker’s paintings operate by juxtaposing conventional symbols (heart, pirate, sunset, explosion) to create a secondhand, mediated expressionism in which both characters and emotions are stylized. In Saying Goodbye to the World as I Knew It, the black kitty stands on a ridge overlooking a postcard mountain sunset, waving. It’s hokey, but still poignant. Since we’ve all been on that mountain, Hecker’s symbols can bring forward one’s own memory afresh. It’s all about sharing experience, the only way expressionism works in painting anyhow.

they’re also about doing nasty things to cute cartoon animals, which is always fun. From Tom and Jerry to Itchy and Scratchy, the cruel slapstick one can subject fantasy characters to without undue guilt makes them a favorite target. Black Thoughts #1, 2, and 3 are simple dark comedies: cute kitties cuddling pills, razor blades and a handgun in suicidal despair are the stuff of a Simpsons Halloween special.

Story aside, Hecker’s paintings are about finish. Juxtaposing hazy airbrush and hard taped edges, pearlescent paint and snazzy stripes, Hecker masterfully manipulates the vocabulary of effects she has perfected over the past decade to make each of the sad paintings a piquant visual treat.

Images are courtesy the artist and Texas Gallery.

Bill Davenport is an artist and writer from Houston.

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