At the Studio Museum in Harlem, large canvases line the walls of the main gallery, each one a depiction of a sparsely decorated room. In some of these paintings, a man appears sitting in a chair, his back to the viewer. Every painting is very similar to all the others in the gallery, but the scene depicted undergoes subtle and mysterious changes in each composition, preventing the viewer from tiring of the repetition. These paintings are the work of Hurvin Anderson, a contemporary British artist. Growing up in the UK, Anderson watched his father receive haircuts in a home barbershop run by Caribbean immigrants. The group of paintings on display at the Studio Museum shows Anderson's various versions of the shop, which he worked on in 2006. Anderson is particularly interested in depicting the social space of the barbershop, and the importance of memory and history in the creation of space. Unfortunately, the chronological organization of the exhibit is not clearly communicated to the viewer. It seems as if many visitors begin with Anderson's later paintings, which is unfortunate—the works are far more powerful when viewed in the order in which they were painted. On the right wall, the large oil canvases evoke the empty feeling of the barbershop. The middle of each canvas is filled with bright blue paint depicting the walls of the shop, with the blue squares stacked in such a way as to give the painting depth. In the foreground, a desk covered in simplified, yet easily recognizable barber tools is depicted. In "Peter's Sitters 2" and "Peter's Series: Back," a man sits in the barber's chair. His back faces the viewer, a reminder that private space is being invaded. While Anderson's paintings explore the landscape of the barbershop, they also recreate this space for the viewers and allow them to explore the artist's sense of space for themselves. Anderson makes the exhibit a place for artist and viewer to work together to create a unique vision of what was once an actual, physical place in time. This interplay of spacial memory and imagination is quite powerful. On first glance, it may seem as though the paintings explore something mundane and monotonous, but Anderson transformed the barbershop into a monumental and magical landscape. The changes the room undergoes in each painting are so subtle that it seems as if objects are floating into and out of the canvases in slow motion. Careful observation of Anderson's work gives a deeper appreciation of the architecture of space, as well as the way the passage of time affects those locations that linger most in our memories. "Hurvin Anderson: Peter's Series 2007-2009" is on display at the Studio Museum (144 W. 125th St.) through October 25. Admission is free with Student ID.
Columbia Spectator Staff