IMG_4101

STORIES, MEMORIES AND DREAMS fill Jack Shainman Gallery. They are embedded in ambitious portraits composed of torn paper and installations of found radios, album covers and eyeglasses. The materials have a history that artist Kay Hassan mines for meaning, envisioning how everyday people live, face challenges and find joy.

Images from billboard advertisements and the culture of consumption that they promote inspired Hassan’s narratives and an innovative technique. He transforms the paper ads by tearing them apart, deconstructing them and then reconstructing them, using the colored fragments and partial images to create painterly collage portraits. His subjects, he says, are characters he sees in the streets of Johannesburg where he lives and works, but they could be from West Africa or anywhere in the world.

KayHassan (at JSG20_EverydayPeople) croppedA new series of the compelling portraits anchors “Everyday People,” Hassan’s solo exhibition at Jack Shainman in New York. Left jagged, the unfinished edges of the works reflect the discarded, second-hand sourcing of the materials, at the same time adding a defining aesthetic. Juxtaposed against the gallery’s white walls, the soulfulness of the large-scale portraits and the resilience of their subjects is amplified.

Juxtaposed against the gallery’s white walls, the soulfulness of the large-scale portraits and the resilience of their subjects is amplified.

“Our lives have always been torn and put together and torn—people have always been pushed around. You see it in the streets, in the kids begging, those eyes, the way they look at you,” Hassan has said. His response is to reflect in his work the themes of what is happening around him—urban strife, matters of dispossession and migration, comfort in the familiar and strength borne of familial bonds.

A gifted storyteller, Hassan’s multidisciplinary practice spans 30 years. In addition to his installations and paper constructions, he works in sculpture, video, photography and painting. He has exhibited around the world and received the DaimlerChrysler Award for South African Contemporary Art in 2000.

FOR HASSAN, OBJECTS SPEAK VOLUMES. “Passage of Time,” an installation of vintage radios paired with an impressive gathering of 160 classic album covers is rife with metaphors. He acquired the show tunes and jazz standards over a period of three or four years. It took him that long to figure out what to do with the them. The collection, mounted on the wall in a precise grid pattern, includes Marian Anderson, Lois Armstrong, Al Jolson, Eartha Kitt, the Mills Brothers and Frank Sinatra—a walk down memory lane for some, a lesson in music history for others. Piled one on top of the other, music emanates from the radios, mood-altering sounds that conjure melancholy, yearning and rejoicing.

“Music plays an integral part in our lives. Music brings happiness when there is a kind of sadness. It will fill a space when a space is empty,” Hassan says in a gallery video. “These are past dreams. If you look at those covers, they tell so much stories. There are beautiful sweet memories in these records. I guide these memories. Even if I am not related to these people, I can relate to the music and the beauty of music and the beauty of sound.”

“If you look at those covers, they tell stories. There are beautiful sweet memories in these records.” — Kay Hassan

IMG_4124
Detail of “Passage of Time.”

In an adjacent gallery, the artist has filled plexiglass wall displays with hundreds of eyeglasses and eyeglass cases. Authentic cast-offs, all past their prime, the vintage faux-leather cases are dusty and the eyeglasses have smudged lens, others are missing lens altogether.

One wonders what the collections represent. A natural conclusion is that the items symbolize people who have died. The concept is reminiscent of the U.S. Memorial Holocaust Museum’s permanent exhibition of 4,000 shoes confiscated from Jewish victims at concentration camp killing centers. Far from mournful, Hassan’s intentions are purely practical and nostalgic.

“There are so many stories about glasses. How these glasses are used. How we depend on them to really see the world clearly, because without them we cannot. It is past memories of short sightedness and long sightedness,” Hassan says in the video. “People, when they see these glasses, they will always start to discuss. They’ll talk about the elders. My mom, my grand dad, my great great grand dad used to wear those kind of glasses and they will laugh about it.”

“There are so many stories about glasses. How these glasses are used. How we depend on them to really see the world clearly, because without them we cannot. It is past memories of short sightedness and long sightedness.” — Kay Hassan

A floor installation literally overflowing with old glasses introduces some gravity, symbolizing the chaotic moments in our lives, when there is so much going on it is impossible to contain or control it.

Hassan’s explanations of the installations are eye-opening. Initially walking around the gallery, the works are engaging and thought-provoking, but the connection between his portraits carefully constructed by hand and the accumulations of machine-made objects is unclear. Listening to Hassan describe the works, it becomes apparent that his choices are about representation and harvesting universal meaning. Whether masterfully manipulated to create transfixing portraits or left as is in a heap, his materials are familiar, ideal fodder for stories that resonate in all of our lives. CT

“Kay Hassan: Everyday People” is on view at Jack Shainman Gallery’s West 20th Street location from Oct. 18 – Nov. 15, 2014. The exhibition closes this weekend.

IMAGES: Kay Hassan portrait by Emanuela Curnis. Courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. | All other images by Victoria L. Valentine

IMG_4119
KAY HASSAN, “Untitled,” 2013 (paper construction).

IMG_4121
Installation view.

IMG_4104
Installation view.

IMG_4112
Installation view.

IMG_4113
Installation view.

IMG_4100
Kay Hassan says the image in this paper construction represents the dispossessed and displaced people living in a beautiful paradise that got desroyed.

IMG_4110
KAY HASSAN, “Untitled,” 2013-14 (paper construction).

IMG_4120
KAY HASSAN, “Untitled,” 2013 (paper construction).

SUPPORT CULTURE TYPE
Do you enjoy and value Culture Type? Please consider supporting its ongoing production by making a donation. Culture Type is a solo editorial project that requires countless hours and expense to research, report, write, and produce. To help sustain it, make a one-time donation or sign up for a recurring monthly contribution. It only takes a minute. Many Thanks for Your Support.