Don’t Repeat. Don’t Repeat: Art Takes on History
Mash Gallery, Los Angeles
through February 1
Written by Genie Davis
C Von Hassett’s devastating and compelling works at Mash Gallery, now through February 1st, are rivetingly aware and takes on a history that is both literal and emotional.
As writer and philosopher George Santayana said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” The oil paintings that make up Don’t Repeat. Don’t Repeat, curated by Amanda Brown of The Resin Collection and MASH gallery owner, Haleh Mashian, demand that we not forget.
Hassett’s work is deservedly dark. Presenting some of the blackest moments in humanity – thus far – the figurative, contemporary works present images that were they not so beautifully constructed, would be painful to view much less recall. Combining a carefully nuanced sense of palette with off-kilter yet realistic renderings of his subjects, Hassett takes on topics from lynching to mass murder, from Hitler to starving children.
The works feel both of the moment and eerily timeless, engaging in the zeitgeist of collective dread that seems to be an underpinning in our daily lives. Fueled by social and mainstream media, as well as the unrelenting dissemination of information, these paintings exude a sense of urgency to take action.
They are stark depictions of iconic images, not the sort of icons we want to revere, but those we would like to shroud in the murky veil of the past. Instead, Hassett forces the viewer to confront them, to face them, to accept their existence not only in the past, but in their timeless potential positioning in the narrative of our future. There are bright stars and there are black holes in the universe; these are the black holes of the soul that are a part of humankind.
Like the figures they represent, the images in the exhibition are positioned slightly askew, with some blank space in the foregrounds – such as in “shipping weight” or “the bullet that circles;” or they’re shown placed on an unusual horizon or perspective as with “field work,” “fury,” or “sticks.”
While certain colors – the pink dress in “the bullet that circles,” or “woman pisses herself” – are bright, there is no sense of the thick vivid textures of oil work; and the palette itself is diminished, with many of the faces reduced to the grey scale. And when pinks or gold are used in the depiction of skin, the shades are muted.
While each image has a narrative focus, it is almost dizzying to determine precisely what the story-telling portends. “field work” gives us a woman with an eye patch pointing a rifle at Hitler’s head against a stark background of flattened, golden fields. Is this an alternative universe? Is this what should have happened but did not? Is the woman indicative of a half-blind future, shooting at something that is already past – physically past her/ahead of her in the painting?
In “the bullet that circles,” the laughing woman, who appears to be Hitler’s mistress, could be amused by what could be a dog’s entrance to the room and its reaction to the sight of a murder; at Hitler himself aiming a gun at a man who has already fallen; at the murder itself having occurred; or by the idea that soon she will die, or Hitler will die himself, events set in motion at least in part due to the firing of that single bullet. Other paintings resemble iconic photographic images seen from a new perspective, but the meaning to be ascertained by that shift in focus is clearly up to us.
As viewers, we are summoned to ignore our own impulse to look away, to accept our own complicity if we should look away. We are called to examine the close view of a starving child in “the sibling,” and stare into the haunted visage of “smoker.” We are asked to witness the agony and diminishment in the calculated measurements taken by Hitler in “ruler, youngster” and “shipping weight.”
By creating images that are as interesting and immersive as they are terrifying to see, Hassett requires us to do a different sort of double-take that that indicated in the title. We must look, and look, and look again.