I Would Not Speak of the Mountain
Nicodim Gallery Los Angeles
November 11 – December 22, 2023
As exemplified by bizarre events like the Big Bang, there are many wondrous things that may emerge from stark places of nothingness. With paintings born purely from the subconscious, Joshua Hagler illustrates this notion in a current solo show, I Would Not Speak of the Mountain at Nicodim Gallery Los Angeles.
The themes in this series (mixed media works and oil paintings on burlap and canvas, all from 2022-2023) arose from an interesting process Hagler calls Nihil, which he articulates in written form through nine spiritual principles named the Tenets of Nihil. The artist has essentially categorized these as Exile and Absence, Place, Non-Mediation, Non-meaning, Image, Color, Touch, Object, and Time, and are modest building blocks from which the artist pursues his visions.
Striving to remove ego from the creative equation allows for unpredictable and uncultivated stimuli to mingle and surge. What we get are expressionistic renderings imbued with vast color spectrums and patterns, as figures and landscapes whirl together in a kaleidoscopic haze. Dramatically put, these works may even resemble a rather pensive psychedelic trip– yet Hagler’s process is deductive rather than inductive, the mind a clean conduit. From there, brushstrokes burst into atmospheres both hellish and heavenly, euphorically uplifting and burdensomely heavy. And while the materiality of Hagler’s imagery remains vague, they radiate with distinct emotionality.
Painter in the Canyon (Who Paints the Moonlit Horse) shows a cross-legged figure woven from pleasing hues of gold, green, purple, and white. As they paint in observation of a creature in the distance, with a rather contented expression, the surrounding nocturnal environment of dense reds and bold blues feels anything but lighthearted.
Distinctive of Hagler’s abstracted style, the title piece I Would not Speak of the Mountain (Vesuvius)shows a mountain comprised of various forms, resembling limbs and other obscure shapes. As is evident through its fiery, blood-red contours, this piece nods to Mount Vesuvius, the volcano that engulfed several communities, among them the notorious Pompei. We can surmise that these events have carved out a space within Hagler’s unconscious, to reemerge through vigorous, startling imagery.
There are also several sculptural elements scattered throughout the gallery rooms, which accentuate the moody atmosphere, appearing as quiet observers lost in eternal reverie. One such figure plods upon the floor – downcast, cloaked, and tattered. It is a character who has perhaps endured many days under the hot desert sun, in search of a truth the mind alone cannot provide.
Notably, these pieces were originally created for and installed in empty, abandoned New Mexico buildings such as churches and schools, as an experiential and sacred experiment. This factor certainly enhances the solitary, desolate vibe of the artworks themselves. Each piece seems to resound with private epiphany, initially unintended for the gaze or scrutiny of others. Indeed, this series nakedly reveals the fruits of a spiritual journey as broad and candid as the queries posed by the innermost self.
Cover image: I Would Not Speak of the Mountain; all images courtesy Nicodim Gallery Los Angeles, photographed by the author.