Virginia Hungate-Hawk’s body of work, in development since 2013, explores the ways in which humans try to define, interpret, and understand their world through cartography. Fascinated by the invisible divides we create, her etchings often read as abstracted maps: “Unless a border is defined by a natural formation such as a river or a coast, lines on a map are constructs.” Constructs which, the artist points out, humans are willing to fight wars over - and which can inform identity, lived experience, and worldview. Whereas maps present a static version of our world with each area discretely defined, Hungate-Hawk's images are filled with moving forms that overlap and interact with each other in a way that more accurately represents the fluidity of precisely what human-made divides signify.
She discusses these themes and her newest works with our staff in her cozy, light-filled basement studio just outside of Seattle. She is dressed in the same color scheme as much of her work: black, white, and yellow. Her use of yellow, she explains, is partially practical- it's the color of paper she had on hand when she began cut-paper collage. It's also a response to the difficulty of printing yellow with etching and avoiding its tendency to turn green. Ultimately, she explains her love for and use of the color by quoting the title of Helen Frankenthaler's 1973 lithograph; "I Need Yellow."
Creating abstracted maps isn't necessarily the artist's intention. She is inspired by references of all scales - sometimes aerial views, sometimes the pattern of moss on a rock. The artist aptly describes her work as "tiny marks that come together to make large accumulations." The pieces are simultaneously simple and detailed. At first glance, the viewer sees the larger forms and how they interact with negative space. Upon closer inspection of the forms, the viewer sees the thousands of small marks that create those forms - with their own patterns of movement and relationships to each other. Sometimes the marks create pathways that guide the viewer through landscape of the work. There's a lot going on in each piece, but it feels intuitive and effortless - the result of years spent mastering her unique style.
What is Visible, What is Imagined - Artist's Statement:
How do the indeterminate spaces around us become known? Does a line on a map exist only if it is travelled or defended? In order to investigate these invisible systems, I employ methods and techniques from the two fields in which I am trained, geography and printmaking.
My fascination with maps developed out of my experiences of travelling with my family. For many of our car trips we took turns reading maps and deciding which roads to take, which experiences to have. Would I choose the small country road where we could peer into peoples’ front yards, or the interstate with swaths of land and texture all around? For me the roads and the interchanges that connect them, guide us and become much more about the opportunities of the journey and what lies beyond, than the endpoint.
Maps have a long history of forming our view of the world. In the Age of Exploration, cartographers included sea monsters in the uncharted waters and left blank spaces to indicate terra incognita. These visual constructions of the world sparked the imaginations of the people viewing them and using these documents. Maps are a conceptual device, they are not one to one realities, they are not infallible. Quite the opposite, like anything else that we “read,” one needs to understand the language in order to decipher the messages and information given. Unless a border is defined by a natural formation such as a river or a coast, lines on a map are constructs.
My etchings are metaphors for indicating the known and unknown. Through investigating marks and patterns, employing scale and movement, I am creating my own interpretation of the imaginary boundaries and spaces we exist in.
Using both the language and abstract space of the map, printing has become my method of navigating the blurry terrain between what is there and what is not, what is visible and what is imagined. In my etchings, I make marks that accumulate and coalesce to become larger configurations. This process of making etchings involves a contemplative process of gathering lines, in a steadily increasing quantity that come together and group. In this work the marks assemble and can be considered as a whole, but would not be without each fragment, each delicate line. Creating and collecting these marks, these insignificant parts swell up and unite, making us notice them. Although we attempt to categorize and delineate the world we live in, at times it is difficult to grasp and understand.