Moira Hahn: Night of 1000 Fire Monkeys

Gregorio Escalante, Chinatown

(April 9 to May 15, 2016)

Moira Hahn is almost too adept at what she does for her own good. Her uncanny ability to recreate the formal, stylistic and technical characteristics of her source materials and inspirations—Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, Persian miniatures, Tibetan devotional thangka paintings—risks obscuring the Pop-infused, cinematic, contemporary Western visual and narrative wit that is the true treasure of her practice. Hahn’s masterfully executed watercolor painting and crisp, radiant printmaking, are dedicated to the portrayal of anthropomorphic animals enacting convincingly authentic historically Eastern tableaux.

Giant chickens-of-prey on the attack, primates checking their cell phones, tigers in the trappings of warlords and more cats in kimonos than your Facebook feed, occupy tatami-matted, paper-lanterned domestic spaces in which families feast and frolic, offspring play board games and samurai warriors defend against attack from outsized parrots. Hahn’s exotic, saturated palette, mannerist line work and knack for adding tiny details—lost dice, a fish tail in a kitten’s mouth, a cartoon cat smoking a cigarette, the traditionally misshapen bound feet of geisha (except they’re cat paws)—all combine to pepper her compositions with a cascade of breathtaking surprises.

After seeing one image, viewers may be moved to start again at the beginning, and re-examine every inch of every painting in search of more. They are never disappointed. But beyond the perennial appeal of this game of hidden magic, and Hahn’s undeniable craftsmanship, there is also meaning in her imaginative narrative scenarios. Besides the panoply of global art historical traditions she cites, and her ability to use animals as allegorical stand-ins for examining the peculiarities of human behaviors, Hahn’s specific interest in the interaction between Eastern and Western societal, aesthetic and popular cultural trends finds ample expression in her flawless mergers.

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Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Los Angeles. She is currently LA Editor for Whitehot Magazine, Arts Editor for Vs. Magazine, Contributing Editor to artltd., and a contributor to Flaunt, Huffington Post, Montage, Desert Magazine, Porter & Sail and KCET’s Artbound. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes loads of essays for art books and exhibition catalogs, curates and/or juries a few exhibitions each year, and speaks in public every chance she gets.

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