One cool remove
Metro Gallery at Reno City Hall1 E. First St.
Reno, NV 89505
From a distance, for about half a second, Annie Hooker’s paintings in the Metro Gallery look like big, historical photos. Not such a crazy thought considering they are. Or were, anyway. The works in Hooker’s Timespace Collapse exhibit are sepia-toned or black-and-white, oil-based renderings of vintage photographs culled from her late grandmother’s photo album or garage sales.
Some of the people in them are intimate family members. In “Pops,” her grandfather points a gun into the distance from the side of a road. Others are strangers, like the couple who smiles in that mid-century retro poise of all-is-well. But their bodies are turned slightly away from each other, and something seems a little too perfect.
“It has this bubblegum feeling to it, but there’s a distance between them that I don’t think is said,” says Hooker. She’s titled this one “Just Pretend.”
The exhibit’s 11 paintings make up a year’s work for Hooker. Now 27, she moved to Reno from her hometown of San Francisco about two years ago. She says the change of scene has helped influence her work for the better. “With the vibe here, I have a lot more space for my mind,” she says. She works at a grocery store four days a week and paints during the remaining three.
“I feel I have more control of my hand, that I’ve become a better painter by painting so much,” she says. “There were certain things I’d avoid before.” Like the mass of leaves in “Wave Function Collapse,” which she struggled to paint. “I think, before, I didn’t really believe I could paint.”
The Timespace paintings are markedly different from her earlier works, which were mostly colorful, quirky robots, rusty fire hydrants, dogs and a few portraits. Some of her robots can be seen at Brickhouse Bakery, where she also painted a mural spoofing “Guernica.” But the new exhibit shows a more thoughtful side, where close attention is paid to moods, the way clothes fall on the body, to light, shadow, and loose or tight stokes. The muted tones go far to impress a seriousness onto the work, as well, though Hooker says she’s looking forward to getting back into color, maybe with works based on “old school 1970s and ’80s film.”
Hooker only recently realized the connection between her current and earlier paintings. “I’m interested in nostalgia, interested in stillness,” she says. “It’s weird to be discovering this about myself now.” Whether it’s antique robots, rusty fire hydrants or old photographs, there’s something about the past and how people view it that intrigues Hooker. It has something to do with innocence and distrust, fondness and skepticism.
“There’s a longing for something that wasn’t perfect to begin with,” she says. “I have a certain fondness and admiration for things that used to be, but I’m also suspicious of them.”
She’s interested in how adding an extra person or element to a scene can change its dynamic. She calls it the “gravitational pull” of a person. For instance, in “Grandiloquence,” a group of five cowboys in chaps stand in a semi-circle, most of their heads unseen. Their bodies are relaxed, almost jovial. The person in the middle even appears to be smiling. And yet, they’re all pointing their guns casually at each other, as if a gunfight could break out at any moment. “I can’t tell if it’s playful or aggressive or both,” she says of the painting.
It’s these kinds of unknowns that the cool remove of an older photograph can provide. “I’m seduced by the clothing and era-feel, and there’s enough distance between me and the time period of the people in the paintings that I can project my narrative onto them.”