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Hockaday’s Layers of L
This story by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on January 27, 1999.
All rights reserved.
From a distance: a series of pictures with abstract
shapes. Up closer, they’re clearly photographic, many with watery-looking
parts, others with elements suggesting leaves, petals, seed pods,
even mussel shells. And those abstract shapes again — what are
they, and what’s going on here?
It’s Susan Hockaday, doing what she’s done all her artistic life:
"looking at the landscape, taking it apart, and putting it back
together again." Starting with an opening reception on Saturday,
January 30, from 5 to 7:30 p.m., 23 of her photographs will be on
view at the Rider University Gallery in the student center. "Hockaday/photographs"
features a gallery talk by the artist on Thursday, February 18, at
7:30 p.m., and runs through February 28.
Forget about photo realism, point and shoot, and what you see is what
you get. Think instead of a visual sandwich, a wrap, perhaps —
a very personal melange of botanical and/or landscape images, often
combined with drawings, and all double-exposed. Not Tennyson’s "Nature,
red in tooth and claw," but Hockaday’s continuing study of the
world around her.
Throughout her art career, Hockaday has explored patterns and landscape
in a variety of mediums, though with surprisingly similar techniques,
and results. Right now, and for about the last five years, photography
has been her tool of choice for considering, revisualizing, and capturing
natural elements, often combined with her own drawn interpretations
of those forms and shapes.
Each of her finished photographs is carefully and consciously set
up ahead of time, and what results on each frame is not at all accidental.
Say, for instance, Hockaday admires the way line patterns form in
a stream. She’ll make a drawing suggested by those attractive patterns.
Then she might put the drawing into the very water she just drew,
to combine her interpretation with the real thing, and photograph
On the same frame, she then might handle another drawing similarly,
or turn the camera toward something else — and shoot that on top
of the first image. The result, all on one negative, might encompass
many layers of material — both natural elements and drawings.
"The thing I don’t know is exactly what on the first exposure
is going to coincide with exactly what on the second," Hockaday
And water ripples won’t wait. "The weather changes, the river
rises or the river dries up — there are lots of circumstantial
phenomena that could help or hinder the process," she says. "I
like the mixture of planning something and also having a certain amount
of chance affecting the results."
The steps in processing each roll of film start at a professional
photography lab, where 4 x 6-inch prints are made for Hockaday’s review.
She chooses the most "interesting" ones to enlarge to 8 x
10 inches, at that point taking over the processing herself at rented
studio space in New York. Images that continue to make the cut may
go up to her maximum size of 30 x 40 inches. "The excitement of
it changes with the scale," she says. "With the right picture,
the excitement gets bigger as the picture gets bigger."
Hockaday uses a hand-held Nikon F-3, with manual or automatic exposure,
that she describes as light and dependable. For the kind of work Hockaday
does, "dependable" is a must — subjected to her early
experiments in this genre, her first camera gave out. The only possible
drawback she sees to her system is the limitation of using 35-mm film.
While a different camera with bigger film would allow a finer, more
precise image, Hockaday suggests that grain size is a matter of taste.
Besides, ambiguity is integral to her images.
Hockaday says her basic ideas have never changed; only
the way she gets at them has changed. More than 20 years ago, she
was producing etchings that, like her work today, involved layers;
thin layers of ink back then. After that, it was handmade paper layers,
so thin as to be transparent, and arranged in patterns to suggest
landscape once again. Periodically, as one thing led to another, she
has continued to change mediums. "It’s not a thoroughly thought-out
process; it’s somewhat unconscious," she says.
"You’re working along and something begins to irritate you, so
you do something about it. In my case, the paper I was printing on
seemed really dull, and I thought I’d like to learn how to make paper
and introduce something in the paper that could work with the image
that’s printed on it." Instead, she found the material of the
paper itself so interesting she decided not to print on it, and for
the next nine years or so, she worked with ways to layer her paper
so patterns would emerge.
"Each of these stages just grows out of the one before," she
observes. For instance, a year’s study at the Boston Museum of Fine
Arts led her to start painting on paper and assembling those pieces
of paper, which, not surprisingly, all resembled landscape. Wooden
cut-outs — usually of heightened shadow-shapes, such as wild iris
— followed. Now, for the indefinite future, she expects to maintain
"a collaboration between photography, work done by hand, and the
landscape," believing she’s only begun to explore the possibilities.
It was, after all, an accidental double exposure that initially caused
Hockaday to realize she had a way to break up an object, to move a
photographic image away from the object itself by consciously layering
images over each other: shapes, textures, tidbits of detail, could
all be combined, for overall ambiguity. To some extent, this replicates
how a viewer might look at landscape — one element at a time —
before seeing the whole picture.
For nearly 30 years, Hockaday’s summers on Cape Breton Island, Nova
Scotia, have fed her art. She explores and thinks, collects artifacts
and, of course, makes photographs. Knowing she needs immediate feedback
to keep up the momentum, she has arranged with a photo lab a few hours
away to produce 4 x 6 prints that she can promptly review, and then
continue with her work. (While in Canada, she stops the process at
that point, saving the enlarging until she returns home.)
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1938, Susan Hockaday was part of a
family of artists and architects. Her father, an architect, also painted
and designed, and served as a city planner. Her mother, whose siblings
were sculptors, was a photographer who also painted, and Hockaday’s
brother is an architect. Hockaday, who drew and painted all through
her childhood, minored in art and majored in human physiology (a complementary
pairing, she believed) at Vassar College. Her grounding in the scientific
method has been cited as one reason for her interest in "the codification
of nature," her awareness of seemingly random repetitions and
their underlying design.
Soon after college, married, and working to help support her husband
through Yale graduate school, she took evening art classes there.
"They were offering etching, so I studied that," she says,
thereby initiating her artistic career as a printmaker. From then
on, as opportunities to study different mediums presented themselves,
Hockaday capitalized on them, often moving into new mediums in the
process. Skilled with tools and techniques, she often teaches herself
what must be done, like effectively gluing giant things, cutting out
wood shapes for her constructions, setting up shop for photography.
Among other places, she has studied etching at the Pratt
Graphics Center, New York, and the Amsterdam Graphics Atelier in Holland;
papermaking at the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Deer Isle,
Maine; and advanced photography at Princeton University. She was twice
awarded fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts,
and her work has been widely exhibited. In 1993, she completed a commission
for the Johnson & Johnson World Headquarters in New Brunswick.
With her husband, Maitland Jones Jr., a Princeton University chemistry
professor, Hockaday has lived in Princeton for more than 30 years.
Their children, Maitland Jones, Hilary Lincoln Jones, and Stephanie
Margaret Jones, grew up here. Since committing to a full-time art
career at age 30, she managed to balance that with motherhood and
a daunting range of other activities and responsibilities that would
give pause to the average busy person.
Over the years, her myriad involvements as an activist and community
volunteer have included — but have certainly not been limited
to — chairing the board of trustees of Artworks, Trenton; chairing
the board of trustees of Viridian Gallery, New York City; co-chairing
the Princeton Artists Alliance; serving as a trustee on the board
of the Princeton Adult School; serving as a Princeton Borough committeewoman.
Such pursuits are a way to offset the isolation that making art imposes,
Hockaday says, adding, "I think it’s important that people involve
themselves in their community. It’s fun — and some things just
need to be done." That’s Hockaday the leader and organizer talking.
It’s easy to observe that "she’s got it all together." Then
add her very presence, her ability to be smilingly authoritative.
Her tendency to speak impersonally — "one could do such-and-such"
— and to be dependably articulate about both the abstruse and
the obvious, suggest a kindly grande dame. And she does get things
done. The board or committee or action group that wants to realize
its goals — not to mention identifying them — had better involve
Helping to hang the show in Rider’s handsomely refurbished art gallery,
Hockaday commented that "this is the first time a large number
of these photographs have been shown together and the first time I’ve
seen them together, and I’m curious to find out what this tells me.
I’m as much surprised and interested in it as the next person."
Measuring and hammering nearby, Harry I. Naar, Rider art professor
and gallery director, agreed on the advantages of the gallery’s space.
The viewer can see each image on its own merit, he says.
Next month, Hockaday’s work will be part of the Princeton Artists
Alliance theme show, "The Odyssey," at Bristol-Myers Squibb,
and she’s preparing for a solo show at Viridian Gallery, New York,
where her work is represented.
Ambiguous or metaphorical as her photographs may seem at first, Hockaday’s
artistry and appeal are never in any doubt.
— Pat Summers
609-896-5168. Opening reception for the exhibition that runs to February
28. Artist’s talk is Thursday, February 18, at 7:30 p.m. Gallery hours
are Monday to Thursday, 2 to 8 p.m.; Friday to Sunday, 2 to 5 p.m.
Saturday, January 30, 5 to 7:30 p.m.
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