“It’s a real struggle,” she says of the intense concentration required to finish the nine variously sized dots.
“Sometimes tears well up in my eyes.”
The juxtaposition between the action of the background and the geometric stasis of the foreground, the paintings serve to underscore the fragmentation, contingency and discontinuity of lived experience. Hsueh, of course, has experienced these vicissitudes; a beginning in which she builds up a framework subsumed visual language of the century-old tradition of abstract art.
Nothing if not critical
On first view, it would be easy to dismiss Hsueh’s recent paintings as Jackson Pollock rip-offs — much as critics dismissed the younger Pollock’s cubist works as Picasso rip-offs (later critics make much of Pollock’s copying as being important in his leap to abstract expressionism). But this might be too dismissive. (I did a close reading of Pollock’s flat and laminar “drippings with Hsueh’s impasto and tempestuous swaths, and found there to be little similarity on a microscopic level.) Steeped in the theory and history of abstract painting, her visual references to the tradition could form the basis of a thesis.
Hsueh also takes up Jasper Johns’ challenge (echoing Duchamp), of forcing the viewer out of habitual ways of seeing. Or, as Johns says, “things that the mind already knows,” and consequently, “seen and not looked at, not examined.” But rather than doing this with everyday objects — targets, flags, numbers — as Johns did, Hsueh goes after the genre of abstract painting itself.
“What are the elements on the canvas that enable us to see that this is abstract art,” Hsueh asks rhetorically. Are they, as I at first thought, Pollock’s expressionist drips or throws of paint? Or is it the geometrically rendered everyday forms that Johns, following Kandinsky and others, ponders as part of the modernist search for objective holistic purity? By narrating both on the canvas, Hsueh hopes to elicit a freshness of seeing that cannot be expressed by either genre alone because we are habitually conditioned to perceive them in a particular way: That splatter over there? That’s Pollock. That circle? Johns.
The question is: Has she succeeded?
It’s difficult to say if you aren’t already deeply versed in the aesthetics of pictorial abstraction. It appears, though, that once theory took hold, Hsueh’s paintings became cerebral and lost the immediacy of those 2010 works painted following her surgery. Perhaps for the student of abstract art, these are worthy explorations and exercises, but for the rest of us not specialists in abstraction’s traditions and theories, they simply look like dotted Pollocks.