Daniel Hojnacki: Don’t Let Go
Vertical Gallery, Chicago
7 September - 5 October 2013
Review by Una Dimitrijevic
Originally published by Brave New Art World, a website dedicated to art practice in Chicago.
Since completing a BA in photography two years ago, Daniel Hojnacki has barely taken any pictures. Instead, these days he likes to think of himself more as a printmaker, and mainly uses old family photos as a base for his very personal, process-oriented work. On top of these he layers household materials - scotch tape, candle wax, wall spackle - elements themselves used to cover up, adhere and fix. Hojnacki spent time playing with these, ‘fidgeting with them’ as he says, before finding a process of addition and subtraction, of layering, sanding and scratching away which produced the desired effect.
The artist’s work is bathed in memories and remembrances. In one of the show’s larger images, ‘Please Don’t Let Go!’, a woman holds a crying baby (perhaps the artist himself), but her face and part of her body are blanked out, and the space beneath the infant is a gaping, frightening, white cavern. The surroundings are part homely furnishings, part abstract shapes, like the gaps in our memory which we fill with other, false images or which remain empty abstractions.
Rejecting conceptual art, Hojnacki seeks to create a direct relationship with his audience by making himself and his whole family history the centrepiece this show. ‘School Portrait First Grade’ is a self-portrait in which the artist’s eyes are no longer visible, his face is disfigured, mutilated, the surface of the paper cracks and appears to melt over his image as the memory of that time falls apart. Two images made from photographs taken by the artist himself (‘Beer Can 1’ and ‘Beer Can 2’) are objects iconic of the masculine father figure, which for Hojnacki also hold nostalgic qualities. These are cleaner, crisper images, the crumpled up cans of Miller’s Genuine Draft are reminiscent of pop-art, yet remain far more intimate.
The titles of the pieces in this show are deeply personal and significant in themselves - all but two are taken from the notes written on the back of the original photograph by his grandmother. The most striking is perhaps ‘Kissing for fun is like playing with a beautiful candle in a dark room full of dynamite’. In this piece, an image of a candle is reflected in a horizontal plane, burning at both ends. The paper appears charred, and the lines on the right hand side are like markers of time, recording the diminishing height of the melting wax. The themes of the passage of time, memory and family ties are brought forth in this simple image of two burning wicks inevitably meeting in the middle at the moment of extinction.
The newest pieces in the show, ‘Petting Zoo’, ‘Dolphin Show’ and ‘Sugar Creek’ are far more abstract. The titles hint at the memory on view but the image itself reveals few clues as to the original photograph. Certain visual elements are attainable if you look closely, but from a distance you are lost in a dense blend of candle-wax and spackle which come together to form an encompassing experience in the form of a multimedia painting. With these latest pieces and the wall installation entitled ‘The first shooting star’, which was created by drilling holes in the gallery wall, sanding away at the surface and applying glossy paint and ultrachrome ink, Hojnacki has made a clear move towards abstraction and perhaps a deeper exploration of sensual memory. ‘The first shooting star’ is nocturnal and contemplative, an allusion to the complexity of the night sky, something so rarely seen in urban life but certainly characteristic of the artist’s childhood and of the large expanse of his dreams.