Jack Hartigan: The Last Stand
Ruschman Art Gallery
Some might say he was just hitting his stride. Jack C. Hartigan (1970-2006) rode the waves of an artistic career that seemed finally to be coming into his own: The summer before his death, he studied on a fellowship award at the Vermont Studio Center, and that same year, earned a Creative Renewal Arts Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis and an individual artist grant from the Indiana Arts Commission. As Hartigan gained more confidence in his work, it seemed that the community was finally taking notice, although Hartigan, his work and his tireless involvement in the arts had been a presence here in Indianapolis since he first began his meandering journey towards earning a degree in art at Herron School of Art in the early ’90s, finally completing it in 2002.
If all of this sounds like an obituary, it’s meant to be a celebration, and it’s an invitation: The fruits of Hartigan’s artistic labors, the “best of,” are on view at Ruschman Art Gallery in The Last Stand. Paul Harris, an artist and friend who nurtured Hartigan and his career for years, was exactly the right person to curate this exhibition, lovingly and stunningly hung to honor Hartigan’s various aesthetic trajectories as they progressed from early nature studies and portraits to political works, encouraged by his longtime teacher, friend and mentor Linda Adele Goodine.
Hartigan’s life was short, relatively speaking, but he left behind an artistic legacy. And for those who knew him well — and I count myself among them — Hartigan also left a certain way of looking at things. Not just artistically, but through a sometimes quirky framework of self-righteousness combined with a love of beauty, an enduring selflessness and an emerging political activism.
At the same time, Hartigan was intensely private. He forged relationships based on the sheer weight of his presence, rather than an intimate opening up. His innermost communication was expressed through his photographs, through the eyes of those whose images he captured in series such as the Peppy Grill and City Market and sensual images of his friend Erin. It was as if Hartigan was looking for truth, reflected back in the eyes of others.
In his Tarot card series, Hartigan himself emerged, his own hand holding forth objects of great meaning to him: a shell, two male groom figurines, a bird, a ring of keys, a robust flower.
Particularly poignant is Hartigan’s obsession with the life of Priscilla Dean Lewis (1909-2001), who served as the principal of the Walker College of Beauty Culture in both Indianapolis and Kansas City. Lewis’ activism inspired Hartigan’s own: He was in the process of collecting, restoring and creating a visual book of Lewis’ memorabilia, a process he described as “visual research of black female identity conceptualized as icon and inspiration.”
Those of us who knew Hartigan were not surprised when we learned, after his death, that he wanted no one to know he was dying. So like him to have the last word. Those words will have a lasting voice in his art.
All proceeds from Jack Hartigan: The Last Stand, on view at Ruschman Art Gallery from July 7-16, will benefit the Damien Center. Visit the gallery at 948 N. Alabama St. or call 317-634-3114 for more information.