Prix de Print No. 16: Spencer Field Series by Cassandra Hooper

  • Cassandra Hooper, Spencer Field Series (2016)

  • Series of six prints: photopolymer gravure and etching with chine collé, 7 1/2 x 10 1/2 inches. Edition of 10. Printed and published by the artist at the Center for Editions, Purchase, NY. $250.

Cassandra Hooper, Spencer Field Series (2016).

This was a difficult choice as so many of the entries were so good. On one level it is a question of taste, and though my tastes are catholic, I’m instinctively drawn to small objects. It’s a “less is more” philosophy. My early training as a scholar revolved around Old Master prints, all of which were small, so I immediately liked the Spencer Field Series. The viewer can hold and experience them in part because of their intimate size.

Individually, the prints feel precious (in a good way). The scale promotes a one-on-one relationship between object and viewer, which in turn fosters a deeper attention and slower evolution of viewer response. One of the characteristics of a good work of art is that it continues to offer sustenance as our moods shift over time. Big things can shout and overwhelm us. Small things invite us to cherish and dream.

Hooper’s photogravures portray weird figures, misshapen heads and indiscernible narratives taking place in a cleared field. The grainy quality and the soft melding of black and white have an old-timey look, evoking dreams or memory, yet each print is economically and directly organized. An edge-to-edge straight line where the cleared ground meets the trees gives the compositions focus.

Spencer Field is a sports field. Hardly a sports fan, even I can see as much. Some of the figures appear to be athletes and one or two seem engaged in recognizable sports: two ladies in Edwardian dress are jousting, while other figures might be playing for some extraterrestrial varsity. Yard lines laid out on the ground suggest a sports pitch and at the same time create diagonal structures that balance the adamant horizontals of the composition. The artist has created a very private place within a public realm.

Cassandra Hooper, detail from Spencer Field Series (2016).

Cassandra Hooper, detail from Spencer Field Series (2016).

As a technique, photogravure is well matched to the artist’s soulful take. An amalgam of photography and etching, copperplate photogravure was used by Alvin Langdon Coburn, Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, then seemed to disappear in the 1940s; though it was revitalized in the 1980s by Jon Goodman and others, it remains a notoriously difficult process. Photopolymer gravure is newer, easier, and, I suspect, chemically less dangerous. Are the results better? Some argue the newer technique delivers less depth, but in the Spencer Field Series, depth and flatness seem equally privileged.

Sports art is largely an American thing, but Hooper’s series the visions of Tiepolo, Max Klinger and James Ensor into into this American vernacular. Hooper’s peculiar figures have the inscrutability of those European forbears, but her figures, landscape and composition do not rise toward heaven the way so much earlier European art does. They stay down, pressed into the earth. Sports, like wars, are about capturing ground. Sports are also part of everyday life, the commonplace, the now, and American art, in every era, might stray but is always drawn back to these basic themes.

Sports are also about the passage of time—usually, but not always, seconds. Baseball is a languid game, a hurry-up-and-wait business. Like most of my peers, I collected baseball cards as a kid, and it’s worth considering why they were so popular. They feature stars, figures not of our mundane world; the cards are small and meant to be cherished and considered. Most are straightforward portraits, but others suggest a mystique that goes beyond celebrity. “What is he thinking about?” I sometimes asked. The Spencer Field Series invites us to look and to imagine.

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