Incidental Beauty

Cynthia Hibbard at Shift Gallery through November 25, 2017

By Stephanie Hargrave

Cynthia Hibbard’s exhibit at Shift Gallery is a study on the ground we walk on. She chose the surface beneath our feet in the built environment because it is “a living history – the pulsating, mutating skin of the human world.” The exhibit, titled Groundswell, records the actual images and scars of roadways, walkways, tarmacs, and floors.

Through her extensive travels, Hibbard has often noticed these surfaces even though they had nothing to do with the purpose of the visit, as with a 2015 trip to Joshua Tree National Park. The road getting to her destination captivated her to such a degree she went back to California to photograph Park Boulevard with all its intricate scars. As she says in her statement, “I was mesmerized by the heavy, swirly tar patches on the road—even more so than the rock formations we were there to see.”

Groundswell incorporates places near and far. Locally, Woodinville’s directional signs were recreated using colored pencil, SeaTac’s tarmac became paper mosaics, and using gouache she captured the trolley tracks at 14th and Yesler in Seattle. Los Angeles was the inspiration for the large oil painting depicting a downtown sidewalk, and further away, a trip to Tuscany was where she produced the eight pencil and oil pastels in the exhibit, though they were also inspired by the concrete floor of Shift gallery and the sidewalk outside the building.

Visiting a Mark Tobey exhibit at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Italy during the Venice Biennale, she read a quote on the wall that in some way summed up her feelings about capturing roadways. She tried to look it up later but couldn’t find it. Probably not the quote she was reading, I nevertheless found a Tobey quote that seems fitting: “On pavements and the bark of trees I have found whole worlds.” In Hibbard’s words, “even the smallest and most mundane snatches of trod surfaces can swell with imagined significance or incidental beauty.”

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