Karen Hackenberg: Divining Line

What’s your spirit animal? In her series of diptych oil paintings, Northwest artist Karen Hackenberg posits a strange human-animal kinship. These man-beast portraits, “Divining Line” (through Jan. 30), pair man and bear, woman and fox, guy and cat, etc. with a frontal candor and cheer. This is not the kitschy sensibility of screaming eagle T-shirts or unicorn scenes painted on panel vans. Rather, Hackenberg’s subjects—at least the homo sapiens among them—pose with a kind of unguarded earnestness, as if to say, “This is who I am” or “This is what I’d to be”—a secret affinity openly expressed. Or more simply, “This is my best friend.” Do the bears and foxes and felines feel the same way about us? Likely not, and that’s where the mystery enters into these canvases. They’re half obvious, half inscrutable. We humans are perfectly plain about what we want (be it to fly like an eagle or swim like a dolphin). But we never truly know the thoughts of the objects of our ardor—or if they think at all. Hackenberg’s naïve realism suits this dichotomy nicely. Also on view, her images of cattle (like a trip to Black Angus!) and barns give the show a neo-Americana vibe (Hackenberg is based in Port Townsend). Her series of pencil and charcoal studies of rooftop exhaust fans also reflects the same shed-and-tractor milieu; these humble, ubiquitous objects are like water tanks in New York—functional and elegant, yet in this case a novelty to us city-dwellers. OK Hotel, 212 Alaskan Way S., 264-1688, www.karenhackenberg.com. Free. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. BRIAN MILLER

Mondays-Fridays. Starts: Dec. 16. Continues through Jan. 30, 2008

 
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