WITH THEIR EXPLOSIVE ENERGY AND ACID-RICH COLORS, STEVEN HIRSCH’S RECENT PAINTINGS CAPTURE THE ZEITGEIST WITH GOOFY CHARM
by Edward M. Gómez
Chicken Little, Pandora, and Pollyanna were recently spotted sipping iced lattes at a café in midtown Manhattan.
Given that the ever-optimistic Polly had had to stumble over sleeping homeless people, walk gingerly around a mound of human poo on a subway platform, and witness the ransacking of the shelves of a CVS drugstore where she had stopped to buy a tube of toothpaste on her way to her appointment — none of the store’s security guards or employees did anything to stop the thieves — her comrades tried to calm her down when she arrived for the trio’s autumnal rendez-vous.
“What the heck is going on here?” Pollyanna asked. “Isn’t this supposed to be ‘the greatest city in the world’?”
Chicken Little was the first to respond, advising his pal, “Polly, baby, I’ve been telling you for ages, the sky is falling in!”
Pandora chimed in, “Yeah, the situation is dire, but let me just rummage around in my box here and see what I might be able to find…”
“Uh, no thanks, Pan,” Pollyanna replied. “There’s enough war, disease, corruption, injustice, violence, and hatred already running rampant around the world, not to mention an abundance of natural disasters. In fact, that’s the problem — and that’s why I’m feeling so worn down. I care, I really care, about the well-being of the human family and the fate of the planet. But what can I do? I feel helpless in the face of this sh**torm.”
“The sky is falling in,” Chicken Little observed.
“Can it, birdie,” Pandora retorted. “This is serious. When Pollyanna turns up suffering from this kind of malaise, something’s really wrong.”
Across town, I found myself sipping tea in the studio of the artist-photographer and regular brutjournal contributor Steven Hirsch. For many years, for New York’s tabloid newspapers, Steven has made his living shooting street scenes and assorted miscreants’ perp walks through the criminal courts in downtown Manhattan. In recent years, he has been making brightly colored, energetic paintings on paper and canvas; their subjects are often plucked from scandal-loving tabloid headlines or refer to the buzzwords and ditzy stars and trends of America’s always fast-permutating pop culture.
Like Pollyanna, I, too, had arrived at Steven’s studio feeling the blues and the blahs. Recent news about all the war-making that has been taking place with ferocity in many parts of the world and even my own witnessing of drugstore shoplifting by a gang on a weekday afternoon had brought my spirit way down.
Then I saw a selection of Steven’s recent paintings, some of which were on display on the walls of his studio and of the small Deer Gallery that he operates at the same address (in the former Boys’ Club of New York building at 287 East 10th Street in downtown Manhattan’s East Village district).
“This is titled ‘Delusion,’” the artist said, pointing to a mostly abstract picture in which some stringy human figures seem to float in the depths of a vibrantly blue sea or maybe in a supernatural forest at night. Another punchy image showed Steven’s raygun-toting, big-boots-wearing “Amazon Queen” standing strong and attentively on a precipice, ready to defend the helpless.
His painting “Covid Madness” seemed to capture the sense of fear and uncertainty that surrounded the early phases of the recent, frightful, years-long pandemic, and his “Godzilla, John Wayne Gacy, and Kong,” featuring three big, lumbering central figures, felt wildly energetic; it’s a picture that defies easy explanation, and that’s a great asset. It’s an expression of art-making as unbridled, freewheeling, inexplicably goofy fun.
Somehow, in the frenetic energy they both capture and convey, Steven’s recent paintings manage to simultaneously seize upon and distill the spirit of the Zeitgeist, and also to reflect it. They seem to exude a sense of sureness — but not calm — that asks: What to do about all the chaos? And they offer one artist’s coping mechanism of an answer, which might just turn out to be as therapeutic for some viewers as it is for their maker.
“Yes, absolutely, making my paintings is my way of responding to everything that’s going on,” Steven said. He added, ”But I don’t really think about it. I just do it. I have to paint.”
Curiously or not, I found a certain solace in viewing and spending some pay-close-attention time with Steven’s art. Of course, the experience reminded me of art’s power to stimulate the mind and soothe the soul.
Later, the phone rang. It was Chicken Little, calling to check in and offer his usual warning, but I was quick to cut him off.
“Well, little chick, the situation may be grim, but I have an idea,” I told the bird. “Why don’t you round up your pals Polly and Pan, and a whole lot of other folks, too. Let’s get together, stretch out our arms — and wings — and, together, let’s try holding up the sky.”