Flowing Waters, Wild Horses

by Ileana Marcoulesco

Dennis Fagan does not make Nature into a backdrop to human action. While valuing childhood, family and friendships,when in nature, he is at one with it. The series, Horses and River, attest to his total immersion in the Spirit of the Horse and that of the Waters.

It starts with Swan (2000): ruffled black feathers and classically curved neck: gliding as if on polished floors, barely indenting a ripple with its beak — the waterfowl introduces the still waters. Rivers and their sand beaches appear solidified, in selenium grays, no turbu­lence, just intimated plant patterns, too obscure to decipher. Thus, Crossing I (1999) andCrossing II (1999) are pure play on shadows.

None of these minimal effects betray painstaking experiment; on the contrary, they flow easily from the "pen" of theartist. I would venture that he writes and narrates the scene, attentive to its literary, besides visual, qualities: not for nothing was Pagan's graduate work in writing and journalism.

At the conjunction of two streams in Dos Rios (1998), a bunch of children with laughing faces styled as in retouched por­traits, with flailing arms, show obvious delight in splashing about. The scene is conveyed in "Cartesian" manner, not in the least Impressionistic, with the focus being on "realistic" narration; whereas in the distance, a overburdened quadruped is about to ford the river in a fog. Here are the two modes of Pagan's photog­raphy combined: the narrative — clear and optimistic — of humans and the impressionistic clip of nature kept hazy, indeterminate.

John on Llano (2000) brings the vivid presence of the artist's son: a boy in a plaid shirt, leaving his sandals on the bank of the river, gauging the distance before jumping in.

The artist's past work at a horse farm yields an abundance of other images. There is this ghastly anthropomorphism of horses. Fagan portrays them wild, even though they may be tame. Tye (1998) is a close-up of one, with white nose bridge and brilliant, piercing eye, who stands under a tree in bloom. The contrast of blacks and white flowery spots in the tree's crown lends it a god-like stance. Most other horses are rendered in blurred grisaille, reluctant to confess their secrets.

In Two Windows (1997), a horse is hazily projected between a small square of light and a huge luminous tear in the roof of the barn. Other images are of pure speed like Galope (1998) — a rush through wind and mist of a disheveled sprinter.Spook Horse (1998) with the anguished eye of a haggard soul, embodies the icon of animal neurosis. No. 6 (1999) draws the rising skull of an immensely frightened animal whose violent neighing seems all-too-audible. Stallion (1998), wildly accent­ed with charcoal, has a steadier, more satisfied and wiser look.

Galiesteo (1997), perhaps the most intriguing piece in the show, features two white horse silhouettes bathed in a diffuselight, lovingly seeking for one another at an improbable angle. The well-studied asymmetric composition, obviously taken in stables complete with brick floors, wood post, metallic bars and stone piers, is loaded with emotion. May it be read as a symbol for love reaching across barriers?

Together with the form of "organic minimalism," the main accomplishment of the show was the transmission of acontagious empathy with the living, in a strikingly novel form. •lleana Marcoulesco is freelance philosopher and art critic living and working in Houston.