Head for the hills

The spiritual journey of Hilary Irons’s “Sheetrock Mountain”
By IAN PAIGE  |  August 30, 2006

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"FRACTURED BARGELLO" by Hilary Irons, 2006
Comparative mythology suggests a motif classified as the “axis mundi” and often represented by distinct cultures as a cosmic mountain or tree. These archetypal images represent the gateways between the world of the deep psyche, the material world, and the lofty realm of the spirit. Through honest investigative development of both technique and thematic intent, painter Hilary Irons manages to create works that provide common ground for seemingly unbridgeable aspects of being.

The works collectively assembled for the show “Sheetrock Mountain” at Aucocisco represent a stylistic achievement and a deepening of personal and social questions concerning memory, the antagonism of human and natural presence, and feminine structures of dominance. Irons creates visual fables that allude to the utopia of memory tainted by the dystopia of reality.

The oblique narrative concerning Irons’s childhood spent in an intentional community is exemplified in “Fractured Bargello.” A small home built from logs with large glass windows is set in the frame relative to a soon-to-be solar panel system surrounded by tools and buckets. This is a nominal human presence such that the true subject of the painting is more the interplay of this partially-rendered scene with the infusive background and the overlaying Bargello pattern (picture the triangular patterns of a grandmother’s afghans). The three disparate elements meet in psychological congress. Geometry manifests itself in a usually unseen day-glo formation, but seems to be made of the same stuff as the house, the trees, and the grass.

“Night Bargello” presents Irons’s position on the inter-dominant structures between women. A tall-standing conifer floats in a gorgeous gouache milky night-sky and full moon. Three women, or three images of the same woman, are seemingly dancing around the tree like a maypole. There is no joy in the scene; the women look more as if they are chasing each other, angered and fearful. Accompanying them is a single horse, silently watching as either patient spirit animal or docile domesticated servant.

This interpersonal drama is evoked further in “Plotted Mandala.” This time, a central figure decisively tears pages from a book that features examples of sacred geometry. The other women rush to the center, horrified and grasping at tossed pages floating in the air. Some have bags of collected seashells, an overt example of embodied geometry. A centralized mandala pointing to the four directions emanates a white light radiant to the point of subsuming parts of the figures, leaving only outlines. The tradition of woman as keeper of sacred and natural knowledge is called into question. Here, women within social structure are at odds with the divine and one another by hoarding knowledge or committing a self-imposed state of amnesia from their born knowledge.

The artist’s illustrative style particularly lends itself to the broad, even fields of pen and gouache on paper, but the style translates as well to oil and acrylic on canvas. The most successful of these larger pieces is “Salmon Falls River Moon.” Another mandala presides over a sprawling landscape featuring yurts and a community of women busy with various activities. This mandala is composed of sacred relationships of triangles, oriented so as to recall the feminine symbol of the chalice. Radiating from the power symbol is a milky white field covering the background and flowing through the center of the canvas in the form of a rushing river.

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