The din of partisan rhetoric being what it is these days, the one thing everyone seems to be able to agree on is that the system works for a privileged few, to the exclusion of everyone else.

Whether a new exhibition by artist Jen Hitchings, titled “Cry Me a River” (at the MEN Gallery in Chinatown), deals directly with this issue or not may be beside the point. She certainly isn’t explicit about it; but then neither was David Lynch in his newest iteration of Twin Peaks which displayed a host of dark elements infecting rural and suburban American life.

The above work, which I’ll call “Pumps: Pour Your Heart Out,” portrays an average postwar diner, which every town in America seemingly had until about ten years ago, but which are now seen mostly boarded up and surrounded by corporate mini-malls (if they haven’t been outright demolished). Hitchings has hers already surrounded by water, like an island out to sea, its reflection more like a ripple of dark shadows threatening to swallow the edifice whole.

The “e” in the word “heart,” from the outside marquee, hangs down, whilst a series of cables fastened to its sign-posts drape eventually off-canvas and underwater, their exact purpose in the picture unknown. The sky in the background, which is more designed than based in actual observation, draws the eye back to the structure itself, which is streamlined like an Ed Ruscha print, lonely and ominous like a Hopper painting. Its lack of people in the picture does nothing to annul the emotional sense of melancholia and loss.

"Abandonment Issues," painting by Jen Hitchings, photo by Nick de Pirro.

“Abandonment Issues,” painting by Jen Hitchings, photo by Nick de Pirro.

A second painting, titled “Abandonment Issues,” is even more moody. At its center is a pair of pickup trucks facing each other. They too are surrounded by water nearly covering their tires. Headlights are still on however; and a flag which reads “start” hangs between two trees. Klieg lights shoot out from behind the trucks, while a drape of Christmas lights hangs above, the source of their mounting also unknown (or unseen). In the skyline behind everything reads the phrase: “Don’t Go.”

The sense one gets is of something having recently occurred here, both in terms of a human event, likely cancelled, and an ecological one (which has caused the flooding). This is not a narrative picture however; nor is it an impression I don’t think. The tree branches are a plastic blue, the water a tertiary brown (and stylized), and the words in the sky almost logo-like. We hear in critiques of films and plays how a geographical location can be like a character itself; yet extracted from an exact dramatic arc the location here becomes embroiled in feelings of nostalgia, fear, and loss instead. We relate to it; it speaks for us.

A third (and final) work in the show, titled “Loser,” is both smaller of size and somewhat reminiscent of the previous Hitchings show, which this site reviewed here. It depicts a landscape, specifically a hillside and a skyline, with the word “Loser” set in a body of water and some upright plantlife emerging from the letters. The colors are again expressive, and blend in a sinewy and slightly ghosty manner, suggesting (perhaps) a cosmos which speaks to us through the mundane (another mainstay of the Twin Peaks universe). There is hope too, however, as the “loser” of the picture, presumably the ecology itself, remains effulgent despite the damage inflicted upon it by outside (read: human) forces.

The politics of such a picture are subtle yet evocative (like the rest of the show). Our world has been left to rot and no clearly visible enemy is to be found as in the days of old when heroes and villains were obvious and consensus a given. The sentiment is either one of recent catastrophe or slow decline (or both). The continuity between this and the artist’s previous work may not be easily detected, yet it’s there too, and the fact that it resides more in the yearning of her overall content than in a few stylistic gestures is more deeply fulfilling and promising to boot. (Brian Chidester)

"Loser," painting by Jen Hitchings, photo by Nick de Pirro.

“Loser,” painting by Jen Hitchings, photo by Nick de Pirro.