Hawes presents 'Renaissance Black' at Bates Gallery

Category:  The Arts
Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 at 2:58 PM
Hawes presents 'Renaissance Black' at Bates Gallery by Hazel Modlin
Contributed Photo: “Adam and the Unholy Ghost"

“Renaissance” traditionally means “rebirth.” It represents a time when Europeans found renewed interest in the arts, and allowed great artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo to rise. But for Master of Arts student Tyler Hawes, that’s not the only thing the Renaissance represents.

From Oct. 30 to Nov. 7, Hawes’ thesis exhibition, “Renaissance Black,” took over Bates Gallery in Loveland Hall. The title has multiple meanings to him; the first and foremost alludes to a specific brand of ink that printmakers like Hawes himself uses. “It kind of calls back to my heritage of sorts of printmaking,” he said (Hawes received his Bachelor of Arts in printmaking from Edinboro in 2019).

The title of the show also speaks to its Renaissance influences, specifically from artists like Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and Titian. “I touch on a lot of imagery they were dealing with at the time of looking back to the more medieval times, when the plague was happening,” said Hawes. 

The “Black” part of the title deals with the black humor that can be found in some of Hawes’ images: it’s a style of comedy that pokes fun at traditionally taboo and morbid subjects. Hawes “[portrays] each character, so in some of these images I kill myself, so there’s kind of a humor there.” 

Hawes’ show was a “thesis exhibition.” Essentially, this means that he had “a concept, and it’s kind of me putting that concept out into the world and defending it with an artist statement and images.” When he put up his exhibition, Hawes wanted to change how the physical space of Bates felt. “A lot of times when you go into Bates … the center is kind of empty and there’s this wall space, or if it’s a 3D show, it’s just pedestal, pedestal, pedestal, so I very much wanted to use the fake walls to force the viewer to go a certain way … following my narrative and ending at the mannequin,” he said. 

Each wall indeed had its own narrative, but they all fit together to form a larger overall story. “I use medieval imagery, but I use it to give criticism on modern practices,” said Hawes. One of his walls focused on a story about a fictional cultist Hawes created, while another pulled inspiration from Dante’s “Inferno.” His back wall focused on flagellants, popular figures in medieval art who would flog themselves for religious discipline. The flagellants in Hawes’ work represent his interpretation of humanity and their ability to fall to corruption of the seven deadly sins.

Ironically, despite most of his images exploring religious themes, Hawes himself isn’t religious. 

One of his images, titled “Adam and the Unholy Ghost,” is a parody of Michelangelo’s famous “Creation of Adam,” and it was Hawes’ favorite piece in the show. In his version, Adam is a flagellant, played by Hawes himself, who has been inflicted by the plague. “I used the plague as a metaphor for corruption and madness,” he explained. What Adam assumes is his creator, and what takes God’s place in the original painting, is actually death. Hawes laughed slightly, then went on to say, “there’s a lot of morbid imagery, but it’s also very satirical, so it balances itself out.”

In another one of his images, Hawes depicts six different beings walking down a dirt road. This piece, titled “A Procession of the Blind,” was influenced by Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s “The Blind Leading the Blind.” In the original, each member of the procession is afflicted with a different variation of blindness. In Hawes’ version, he attempts to comment on how blind the modern pursuit of knowledge can be. He also explained how his version has a satirical element: “I never actually put eye holes in the masks, so when I put the masks on, I can’t see when I’m posing, so it’s also poking fun at that too.”

A majority of Hawes’ work in the exhibit were digitally collaged prints. He explained how this both calls back to and yet differs from his printmaking background. “I take them into Photoshop, and I do a ton of layering, like hundreds of layers on top of each other on these images. So, I’m still tackling it like a printmaker would, but I’m not really using traditional printmaking skills, instead I’m using a digital process.”

All his characters in his work are portrayed by Hawes. He makes all of his outfits, and he either buys costumes he can make changes to, or sews the costumes from scratch. He also created his props, and mentioned that, “I created six different masks using twine and fabrics.” Each shape of his masks represents different things; for example, one of Hawes’ masks is shaped like a hand, which is meant to represent the hand of a godly creator. The moon and the sun masks were used to represent the mother and the father, an upside-down triangle represented disorder, and a circle countered for order.

Hawes realized that his viewers wouldn’t always completely understand his use of symbols. “I didn’t really mind if the viewer didn’t get that from viewing the piece because there’s a lot of nuances and subtleties within my narrative that I know, but it’s interesting to allow the viewer to just breathe and look at the images to see what they interpret from the narratives.”

Hawes mentioned that his show would not have been complete without the help of his father. “He constructed all of the frames my work is in, so the show is very much about him as it is me; it’s kind of showcasing his craftmanship and his know-how. Without his help, my show would not have looked as professional and successful as it did.”

Hazel Modlin is the Arts Editor for The Spectator. She can be reached at edinboro.spectator@gmail.com.

Additional Photos:

Contributed Photo: “A Procession of the BlindContributed Photo: “Adam and the Unholy GhostContributed Photo

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