version française Voyage au Pays d' Hazel Karr Hazel Karr's Picture Book

Contemporary painting

Nancy Huston

For some time now Hazel Karr's palette has been changing. Where, before, black and red confronted and embraced one another so as to explore all the meanings of these colours apart from the clichés of "blood" or "nighttime" (including hitherto unsuspected forms of blood and nighttime), it has now expanded to include ----green, orange, gold! But Hazel Karr's colours have always been complex, surprising, and contradictory. Her backgrounds may seem dark, almost black, but the closer we look the more we perceive the light in their darkness, the unbelievable glow from within.

Before, her red was never morbid; and now, her green is never bucolic. It is the green "missing from every garden," just as Mallarmé's flower was missing from every bouquet.

Hazel Karr's rabbit has also undergone a transformation. It now maintains only a faraway, occasional, playful connection to Alice's White Rabbit which was its starting point . The big difference is that Hazel Karr's rabbit is never in a hurry. He has neither watch nor gloves, he doesn't run, he walks at a leisurely pace or rows along slowly in a rowboat, sometimes he's nothing but a tiny figure in a maze of colour, sometimes he's even asleep, invisible behind a bush ( yes I believe he's always there, even when we can't see him, in fact I'd say that for some time now I've been convinced that Hazel Karr's rabbit is present in all paintings, not only hers; I'll tell you why in a minute.)

Anyway, whatever his form or colour, the rabbit is there. He can even be a dog, a horse, or a bird, that's doesn't matter. The important thing is that he's moving across that flat, coloured, moiré , golden, textured, beautiful expanse of green- or- not-green, and then, all of a sudden – splatch ! right in the middle of the empty sky, if it is a sky, or the landscape, or the canvas – what has happened ? It looks like an explosion, but is it an explosion of joy or anger ? Apocalypse or fireworks ? Catastrophe or celebration ? Are we in the world of childhood and circuses – is it a sparkle, a glare, some dazzling , arresting surprise ? – or in the adult nightmare of humankind at war ?

Sometimes the rabbit turns his back on the conflagration, sometimes he moves toward it. Never does he react to it.

Is he aware of it ? Does it concern him ? Is he the cause of it, or perhaps the consequence? Can we really be certain it's an explosion ? Perhaps it's just --- a tree? Perhaps these are trees exploding? Or explosions taking root? And not only roots but branches, trunks and foliage ? Anything and everything can happen in the wonderland that is painting.

Were I were to use the language of theoreticians, I might say that the rabbit is the only "figurative" element in an otherwise "abstract" painting. It would be a "life detail" whose pictorial function would be to focalize our attention. Its path would be a straight line, in striking contrast with the savage blaze of colour behind, in front and above, at a remove from any notion of dimension or perspective.

But that's not my language. I don't know how to elaborate theories. All I can say is what I personally feel to be the truth – namely, that Hazel Karr's rabbit is me. It's you.It's each and all of us. We recognize ourselves in him, just as we recognize ourselves in the tiny human figure in an architect's scale model, or the character in a novel we're reading. Standing up, or sitting in our boat, we walk, row, move forward as best we can, seeing all and saying nothing. The important thing is not to get flustered, not to panic, never to give up. Is this cowardly or noble-minded? Hard to say but I think it safe to wager that the rabbit is neither blind nor indifferent.


Click on the pictures to enlarge them