Camille Hawbaker

by Robert Mahoney

February 5, 2016

Emerging artist (2014 UNL Grad) Camille Hawbaker works both in fabric-oriented text weaving art, as seen in Art Seen at the Joslyn last summer (see my review), and in drawing. An example of her more fabric-oriented work, The Murmuring Constellation, is up at the Lux Gallery in Lincoln, through February. However, this review is only about her drawings at 402 Arts Initiative, Omaha, in January. 

While in her fabric work, Hawbaker includes an undercurrent of a spiraling line, hidden like a watermark below the surface. In her show at 402 Arts Initiative in Benson, she brings the spiral linear vortices out to play. The exhibition consisted of upwards of a dozen tondo or round black papered panels, mounted on two walls. One set is larger than the other. For me, with these spirals, the bigger the better, and, indeed, I think I left wanting to see even bigger and looser and still freer. The largest works in this show gave Hawbaker’s intriguing calligraphy the widest berth. This then elicited an expansion of the formal vocabulary, which then enriched the space between elements, and on and on. Also, there is a strong feedback logic behind all the looping here, with every loop out then having to loop back in, gradually gravitating toward some state of formal equilibrium (in this regard, these are elaborately artistic versions of long-form doodles done while waiting somewhere, or, in the old days, talking on the phone, submitting ultimately to the human brain’s need to connect the dots). Whatever they are, however, it is clear that they are the product of beta waves, and that the artist is in the “the flow.”  

Camille Hawbaker,  LXIV , 2015, ink, paper on panel, 10" round

Camille Hawbaker, LXIV, 2015, ink, paper on panel, 10" round

In this series, however, Hawbaker repeatedly returns to the center of the vortex. If you could count up the lines that converge versus those that diverge one might say this series of forms is centripetal, toward the center, in nature.  In one drawing, for example, there is a dense central vortex, that then loops out in three successive still proximal spirals, as if trying to establish a new center, but then on the right edge of that effort, there is what I would call a flurry of hiccups, little loops that pester some line just passing through, causing the main spiral to just bail out, sprint to the outer edge, and then wander off to form another spiral above, and then flares at the edges. Here, as in all the drawings, it is fascinating to try to trace out the pathway and the drama of the line as it seeks to make form. It seemed essential for me that one “reads” this work, as if Islamic script, to fully engage its enactive pulse. Another drawing explores voids, as it spins wide around a few open black holes, then loosely counterbalances them with larger spirals: the result is a more ghostly presence. In Number 80 (LXXX), which is maybe the best drawing in the show, Hawbaker started with small spirals, then began to spin them out, lining them up, horizontally adjacent to each other, creating a palinopsic effect that makes one freeze, this drawing too then stabilizing itself, jellyfish-like, with the loosey-goosiest outside flares of line in the exhibition. 

Camille Hawbaker,  LXXX , 2015, ink, paper on panel, 20" round

Camille Hawbaker, LXXX, 2015, ink, paper on panel, 20" round

There is also a centrifugal (away from center) force in these drawings, as mentioned in the flares out to the edges, Hawbaker showing herself as adept with this maneuver. One drawing, along these lines, is noticeably looser than all the others, leaving a lot more vacant black space on the table, as it were. After a rather ginger spinning of lines near the vortex, it is as if the spiraling line loses patience with itself, then springs out to the margins, then repeating a loose line-up of ten long loops looking like a crazy signature or Kufic Islamic script art looping to the edge of plateware from the tenth century Khorsabad. Here, too, with these flares, when the lines simply multiply, one does tend to compare them to text, and suddenly seek more meaning from them.

For all this, one aspect of the work that remains embryonic, however, is that it is not clear that Hawbaker is entirely sure where in her brain these amazing spins of vortices come from. Further exploration on that point will help her to resituate her drawings from the “abstract” zone of “drawing” to pinpoint the particular wiggle room in her mind that generates them, which will in turn activate them in more idiosyncratic ways. This placing, then, will better able her to control the effect of the spirals on the viewer. My above rather formalist comments indicate some sense of a relation between form and mood, but inconclusively so. Top of my head, the sort of spiral frequent here usually takes over, if in a state of hypnagogy, when the mind is in the very act of falling asleep, symbolized in movies by spiral staircases, for example. But, in fact, for work that has so much spinning going on in it, the work comes off as calming, not agitating, so it rather approaches that, than goes down through it. At present, we see Hawbaker’s mind play with its curious inner gyroscope, down the road she may come to see that these spirals effect people in different ways. This stuff is dredged up from pretty deep in her brain, which means, thinking back on her fabric work, it at present fits snugly, lurking under other elements, but, then, out in the open, remains a tad unsteady.

Camille Hawbaker,  LXXVIII , 2015, ink, paper on panel, 10" round

Camille Hawbaker, LXXVIII, 2015, ink, paper on panel, 10" round

In this show, then, things at present with this body of work remains abstract and self-contained.  The circular panel form also seems to risk restricting movement a bit and give recourse to those who see art from outside in not inside out to see the work as “pretty” or seek in the outer line of the spirallings an overall pareidolic shape, with jellyfish, apotropaic masks, seahorses and nebula coming to mind. But the key to Hawbaker’s linear vortices is to get into the center, follow the line, appraise/enjoy the spaces between the lines (Gell, analyzing Marquesan pattern art, called style nothing more than a “relations of relations,” but that means you have to go down into the relational spaces) and then feel its up and downs. (Disclaimer: This goal was undoubtedly greatly helped in the exhibition by the projection of a video, Torsion, showing the line in action, coming into being, then spinning out, but the video was not showing when I reviewed—I viewed it online). Hawbaker opening up to the spins of her mind as it doodles is terrific, but one suspects that given still more room to run it will be increasingly undeniable that—something is definitely happening here.