The viewer is introduced to Stanley Rosenthal and Adrian Hatfield with a couple of mug shots at the Art Department Gallery’s exhibition of their sabbatical work that opened Nov. 5.
The accomplished Rosenthal seems to never let himself settle, while Hatfield is more like the young rebel, using alternative media to engage modern thought. Later though, it is revealed that it’s just a gag inspired from Rosenthal’s stand-up comedian days.
Rosenthal’s watercolors are just as deceiving: portraits of himself and his friends are placed in peculiar settings and surrounded by interesting objects.
When discussing his portrait of Joan Ferguson, he said, “As I began to paint her, I began to make up stuff ... I really truly don’t know what I’m going to do until I do it.”
While some aspects of the setting or objects are connected to the subjects, Rosenthal gave the impression that he lets the painting evolve organically.
Some pieces do pay tribute to famous works such as Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus,” pueblo-style ceramics and Rene Magritte, but according to Rosenthal, most of the design choices were made on-the-fly.
“They’re just crazy things,” he said.
He hand-picked his subjects, but that’s about all the control he seemed willing to exert.
“I would ask people I liked, anywhere from one of my students to the president of the university. And people would come for about an hour and I would start the drawing, and my wife would take photographs that we would use to get light and shadows. Once I’m started, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Adrian Hatfield’s mixed media works are more deliberate.
“My work is about the overlap between science and religion, and how both are completely different strategies for solving really big questions,” Hatfield said.
Both 3-D paintings and dioramas are displayed in his collection. One particular work, “Elijah and the First Scientific Experiment,” blends religion and Godzilla, who is portrayed as God bringing fire down from the sky at Elijah’s command.
While it is a parody of the Biblical story, Hatfield pointed out that he wasn’t being entirely cynical.
“I’m definitely being tongue-in-cheek,” Hatfield said, “but also, if you think about it, how do you represent God? So, in a sense, I don’t find that any more ridiculous than an old man with a white beard.”
Other eye-catching pieces showcase his work with resin.
“I started with the Hubble telescope images and started to think ‘okay, what’s a really seductive material?’ And resin was shiny and really smooth ... even (if) it’s a terrible painting, it’s shiny and it has glitter. People are going to look at it, you know?”
The Rosenthal/Hatfield Sabbatical Exhibition runs through Dec. 10.