‘Heaven and Hell’ at RCC

By Michael Diggin

A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN AND HELL

By Michael Diggin

The Riverside Community College art gallery is hosting a field trip that takes you from the heights of heaven through the depths of hell. In fact, you’ll likely end up in both places at once.

The tour guide is Moira Hahn, and she is providing transport through the artwork featured in her “Heaven and Hell” series being displayed in RCC’s art gallery.

The paintings are based on similarities between particular Christian concepts and comparable concepts found in certain forms of Japanese Buddhism, hence the “Heaven and Hell” motif.Many of the paintings depict a veritable chaos of vibrant color and motion, with a multitude of elements layered on and interlaced with others.

A large 45 by 73 inch mixed-media collage titled “Synaesthesia Series/ Atom Boy/ Lost Episode” dominates the gallery. It faces the entrance to the art gallery and the eye is immediately drawn to the kaleidoscopic patterns and interspersed figures of dragons and Astro Boy.

In Hahn’s work anime figures, including the aforementioned archetypal anime figure Astro Boy, and Doraemon, a catlike anime character, replace cherubs and other religious figures. This substitution represents the prevalence of mass marketing and consumerism in today’s society, within the established juxtaposition of varied religious ideas.

The symbolism in Hahn’s art is just as deeply layered and multifaceted as the images themselves are.

Hahn said her work is influenced by Tibetan Tantric art and the complex masses of elements teeming with color are ample evidence of this influence.

The Mandrill baboon also plays an important role in much of Hahn’s work. The Mandrill is a representation of the artist herself, and can be found in many of her pieces. Hahn said this particular primate’s colorful face embodies her own feelings of alienation and peculiarity that she has felt for various reasons throughout her life. This point is illustrated by circumstances during her many stays in Japan, where Hahn said she has felt her face to be as unusual as the Mandrill’s, her pale complexion and vivid blush only serving to exacerbate her gaijin status.

A painting named “Mandrill Self Portrait” depicts this motif quite literally, consisting of a self-portrait of the artist with her head replaced by that of a screeching Mandrill baboon.

Not all of the pieces in the show are as chaotic as others, being more representational, although in a figurative way. There are some that portray the antagonism between birds and cats through various anthropomorphisms. “Ukiyo-e Re-Mix II/ Revenge of the Tori” shows birds in kimonos printing wanted posters of notorious cats while a fire-breathing cat barges in on them. “Ukiyo-e Re-Mix/ Besieged” is an illustration of two samurai birds ambushing a samurai cat.

These paintings and others are inspired by classic Japanese woodblock prints.

Yet other pieces depict environmental and psychological issues. Hahn has a large body of work, and only a tiny portion of it is on display in the RCC art gallery, but the fascinating artwork on display intrigues visitors to find out more about her art.

“Heaven and Hell” is but the tip of an intricate and multihued iceberg of the captivating art that has been produced by Moira Hahn.