At Sherry Leedy, Cindy Kane and Tanya Hartman slice into notebooks
By Chris Packham

Published on January 19, 2010 at 1:05pm

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Tanya Hartman's Rhyming the Lines, a vastly different project, is similar in its painstaking textual focus, intimacy and candor. First, Hartman writes her short story or poetic essay. Then she cuts out each word from the printed page (conjuring images of X-Acto blades scattered like autumn leaves in her studio) and affixes them, one at a time, to paper she has already layered with acrylic paint and laboriously embroidered with lines resembling those in a child's writing tablet. The exhibit's namesake piece, "I Wrote a Short Story (Rhyming the Lines)," tells the story of a child (presumably the artist) whose father gives her Richard Wright's short story "Big Boy Leaves Home," a horrifying account of a lynching.

In a brilliant stroke, Hartman sets off a quote from Wright's story as a small, separate abstraction in the middle of one panel. It's printed in a different type size and edged with her characteristic embroidery. Her own text wraps around Wright's, as if in embrace. Up close, you can see ghostly strata of copy beneath the pale layers of paint, a doubling of the topmost layer of text that adds visual depth without sacrificing clarity. Presumably, it's also a shit-ton of extra work.

"What Was Beautiful" and "Reliquary" are essentially Hartman's lifework, ongoing projects in which she applies her method to a journal-like documenting of her life. In "What Was Beautiful," she records discrete moments of beauty as she encounters them: stepping away from a boisterous party for a moment of silence; watching a muddy turtle splashing in the water; the bird song and the wet laundry signaling a bird's nest in her home's dryer. Each is composed as a small, lovely prose poem.

Each panel of "Reliquary" represents a year of Hartman's life. The piece is stitched together in a configuration that suggests a network of cells as seen through a microscope, the tissue of a biography. "They hated a girl, not me, when I was nine," she writes. "But the hate was in me, too, when I was nine, and cellophane crackled when I was nine, and torment was mine." Complicated and labor-intensive, Hartman's work is too thoughtful to mistake for an actual notebook, but it's too personal and intimate to hold at arm's length.