Blue Notes: The Art of Ellen Hackl Fagan

Ellen Hackl Fagan at ODETTA Gallery, installation view courtesy of the gallery and the artist.

The crisp sunlight of a Fall afternoon animates the electric shades of deep blue that permeate the walls of ODETTA  gallery. These hues form the basis of artist and gallerist Ellen Hackl Fagan’s current series of works, Seeking the Sound of Cobalt Blue, on view at the space through early November. “This series has been in progress since 2014,” notes Fagan. Fagan gestures across the rhapsody of blue adorning the space, a symphony punctuated by notes of bright yellow and terracotta. “I’ve been applying my practice toward a search for color as a medium for sound since 1981.” Fagan traverses the space, greeting visitors from the local arts community between introducing individual artworks on display. We hover in front of two works created just as Fagan at the outset of the series. “This search for a connection between music and visual arts has involved finding patterns created with mass-produced materials which feel comparable to musical structures,” Fagan observes. “The geometric, repeating patterns, contrasts, and nuances feel melodic. Like in life, there are moments of darkness and solitude, confusion, or bliss.”

E Hackl Fagan, Seeking the Sound of Cobalt Blue Fence Capture 2016.

Pursuing an interdisciplinary approach since well before the current craze for such endeavors in the arts began, Fagan’s practice incorporates synesthesia and directly observes the relationship between color and sound. An MFA graduate in painting/interdisciplinary art, Fagan has studied both painting and photography at multiple campuses, including Yale and even abroad in Rome. Fagan renders works in this current series with non-chemical processes, applying photographic methodology to her painting. Invoking the immersive scope of Color Field paintings in her approach, Fagan’s works capture impressions of household objects rendered in shades of blue. Phantasms, these objects lie suspended between swaths of fluid inks and rich pigments. The viewer stands seemingly absorbed into the smooth blue surfaces, works which dominate the space at an impressive nine feet tall by five feet wide each. The scale and alluring shadows of the objects embedded within each individual artwork invites viewers in. Viewers can contemplate the complex materiality and process required for each individual piece to manifest.

The significance of gesture and meticulous process becomes evident, not only in the artist’s practice but also in her approach to managing ODETTA. Entering the gallery, my eye settles on Fagan carefully applying lettering to the windows: the artist designed the typography, a catchy Bauhaus-inspired font, herself. This attention to nuance and detail is evident in the artist’s measured compositions. While the materials and objects included in this series of work are rigorously selected, Fagan has no qualms about allowing organic movement to infiltrate her practice. Guiding me to her studio in the rear of the gallery space, Fagan indicates pigment on areas of the floor where she has conducted the paintings for her large-scale works. “I re-appropriate objects used in my home, making visible the industrial products from everyday life – tile, grass fencing – capturing them in a photographic-like gesture.” Capturing the repetition of material and accidental abstraction created resulted through an experiment consisting of washing pigment across various surfaces, Fagan observes, “Arranging these objects, such as tile, and capturing their presence with the paint yields new results with every work,” Fagan observes. “The paint has something new to say with every new artwork, continuing to feed me new lessons.” With each blue note that chance throws her way, Fagan is expanding her artistic oeuvre, creating a rich and complex rhythm ready to captivate new realms of the imagination.

Ellen Hackl Fagan at ODETTA Gallery, installation view courtesy of the gallery and the artist.

Ellen Hackl Fagan’s works are on view during Open Studio hours at ODETTA, open October 26-28, 2018 1-6 pm and the weekend of November 2-4, 2018 1-6 pm. The gallery is free and open to the public, and is located at 231 Cook Street in Bushwick around the corner from the Morgan stop on the L train. During weekend L train shutdowns, visitors can ride the J/M trains stopping along Broadway at Myrtle/Flushing Avenues and Jefferson Ave: each stop is just 6 blocks away. ODETTA, founded by Fagan in 2014, features works by mid-career artists Linda Cunningham, Chris Klapper, Nancy Baker, and more. ODETTA’s exhibitions have been reviewed in The New Criterion, Hyperallergic, Two Coats of Paint, and more.

Ellen Hackl Fagan’s work is featured in the exhibition #UNLOAD, which opened on Thursday, Oct 11 at the Slade Ely House for Contemporary Art in New Haven, CT. #UNLOAD, a collaboration with artist Tom Sachs and the New Haven Police guns for cash program, sees decommissioned firearms be destroyed and re-purposed as potential material for art objects. In addition, Fagan’s work is included in Melanie Carr Gallery’s presentation for CT Contemporary: a contemporary art fair in Connecticut taking place from October 14th – November 10th at Silvermine Galleries inNew Canaan, CT. The artist’s work will also be included in AQUA, an art fair held at the AQUA hotel in Miami during Miami Art Week (Dec 5-9, 2018).

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Audra Lambert

Audra Lambert is an arts writer and independent curator who has worked on interdisciplinary projects involving painting, performance, new media and installation art. Her recent curatorial projects have included The Subtle Image group figurative exhibit at Dejavu Gallery, Reflecting Our City for the White Roof Project at the Center for Social Innovation, and participating in the Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts’ A Wicked Problem. In addition to these projects she has served as Project Coordinator for More Art, a socially engaged nonprofit based in NYC, and she has contributed to Art Nerd, Examiner, AXS, and WhiteHot Magazine, among others. With an anticipated 2016 M.A. in Art History, Modern & Contemporary Art from CCNY, her primary focus is on installation art and contemporary art in the public sphere.

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