Susan Hodgin's 2011 painting "Mountain" shows a far-off peak — or what looks something like an MRI scan of a peak — being ravaged by an approaching thunderstorm. There's beauty here, but also a hint of terror. At the Harrison Center exhibition a limitless existence: New Work by Susan Hodgin, opening May 2, you'll be able to experience such powerful paintings first-hand.
You'll also have a chance to view the photography of Erin Hüber in an adjacent gallery. Hüber is the founder of the Mother Artist Project, and in that capacity she interviewed and photographed Hodgin and other "mother artists."
Hüber began the blog after meeting many women who were, like herself, attempting to balance their aspirations as artists with their occupations as mothers. Her blog takes a Q&A format, allowing her subjects to talk openly about their lives and their art.
"I started with one mom," she says. "All it took was one mom who talked to another mom, and before I knew it, I was getting emails saying: 'What are you doing? I want to be a part of it, and I'm crying now because I wanted to be an artist and then I had kids.'"
But Hüber's Mother Artist Project photographs don't necessarily need Q&A text as scaffolding. Such is the case with a black and white photo of Hodgin at play with her two-year-old daughter in a Harrison Center studio filled with her paintings.
Balancing her life as an artist and a mother isn't Hodgin's only struggle. In 2011, she was diagnosed with colon cancer while pregnant with her first child. After major surgery and then a period of remission, the cancer returned and she was diagnosed at Stage 4. She is in recovery from another major operation she underwent April 15.
Much of Hodgin's recent work is sunnier than paintings like "Mountain." "I am still trying to get more depth and space but with more of a whiter, lighter background," she says.
Accordingly one of the exhibition paintings, "Faceless" portrays a globe against a pinkish-white background, smothered with dabs and smears of boldly colored oil paint.
"I love the physicality of the paint," she says. "Things that are unexpected and less controlled, like painting with butter, beautifully colored butter."
Around 2009, Hodgin encountered a 1797 essay by Edmund Burke, "A Philosophical Inqury into the Origins of the Sublime and the Beautiful," that greatly informed her subsequent landscape-based work. Since she became ill, she has reevaluated this influence.
"Before my work was kind of more about the Burke-related sublime," says Hodgin. "According to Burke at least, the definition of the sublime is finding beauty within fear and terror. And the way I was interpreting it in my work previously it was in facing nature. These vast, immense, powerful, overwhelming landscapes that Mother Nature would just throw at you and you'd become insignificant and small, finding the beauty within those moments of absolute fear and terror."
"But where am I now?" she continues. "Now I'm actually facing the most fear that I've ever faced before in my life. I'm not talking about theoretical fear. I'm not talking about needing to go to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro to find my fear. It's right here and it's in boring old Indianapolis at a cancer center surrounded by a million other people doing the exact same thing that I'm doing. It's very mundane. People get cancer and die of cancer all the time. No one's going to write a novel about me facing cancer because everyone does. But it doesn't make it any less terrifying to be told that you have a finite amount of time.
"And so my work is still about trying to find the beauty within that fear but my fear instead of becoming this sweeping natural disaster — this gorgeous landscape of beauty and rain and fire and sun and light and absence — it's taken on a much more microscopic, much more human, much more corporeal form."