Looking at the bold, textured paintings that fill Greg Hart's studio space at Redux, you can tell that he's a face guy. Pensive faces, joyous faces, curious faces — they're all captured on the large canvases that hang on or lean against the studio walls. "I'm weirdly attracted to individual portraits," Hart says. "That might go back to me being introverted — I like to relate to people on a one-on-one basis."
Hart's been fascinated by portraits since he was a little kid, although he took a couple detours before settling into his work as a portrait artist. An erstwhile illustrator with a background in film and television, he spent time at CNN — that's where he was on 9/11 — before attending the Atlanta College of Art, which is now the Savannah College of Art and Design-Atlanta. He studied illustration, plying the trade for five years before calling it quits and focusing on his own work. But his experience as an illustrator taught him some important techniques. "Something that I've learned from other illustrators is to be almost a mad scientist, just a rabid experimenter," he says. He's not afraid to try working with different paint applications, blotting and twisting his brushstrokes with paper or combining wide, sweeping lines with delicate detail work.
It's that detail work that's at the heart of his upcoming Gris Galerie show, Maze. Consisting of 35 pieces — several large portraits and 20 small abstract works — Maze takes its name from a tiny maze pattern that shows up repeatedly in the paintings, often near the top of the subject's head. "I've always been one to shoot first, ask questions later, so I've had to think a lot about what the mazes mean," Hart says. "I'm drawn to work that has repetitive patterning ... [but] on a symbolic level, I think it has that nice, loaded imagery of searching. None of them are constricted mazes — some of them are broken or incomplete. I like the idea of people constructing their own barriers and then breaking out of them and creating new ones."
The theme is especially pertinent for this show, as Hart is breaking through his own barriers by showing abstract work as well as figurative. "When I get really comfortable with my work, I like to kick the legs out from under it and try something that's more uncomfortable," he says. "So the little [abstract] pieces, they're the kinds of things I do a lot but usually don't show. I wanted this show to be more about that conflict between what I've mastered and what is just completely out of my comfort zone."
Hart's collaborating with Gris Galerie's Greg Colleton, who's also a sculptor, to devise how to hang the paintings. The idea is to echo the maze theme with a maze-like display inside the venue. "I think there will be some sculptural element that has to do with the pattern," Hart says. "I'm extremely excited about the space."
This will be Hart's first show with the Gris team, although he's been a fan of the group, which hosts one-night art shows at different locations around town, since it was founded a little more than a year ago. "I love the idea of doing a show in ... unconventional spaces and having that immediacy of one night only," he says. "I just approached them and said, 'Hey, if you have anything available in the next year or two, I'd love to collaborate.'" Hart and Gris decided to hang the show in King Dusko, a new gallery-coffee shop-beer garden owned by hip-hop artist McKenzie Eddy.
Though the painter's film influence isn't explicit in his work — Hart's obvious joy in the brushstroke makes his portraits more painterly than cinematic — he still finds himself drawing on some of his favorite filmmakers as he works, especially for this show. "I've been thinking of Kubrick, just because of The Shining and the mazes and all that," he says. Hitchcock, too, has popped up in his mind. The director's skill at taking ordinary situations, like a mother-son relationship or a man watching his neighbors out of his window, and twisting them into something surprising appeals to Hart and his own artistic ambition. "That's really what I like about the portraits, because they're very inviting," he says. "The subject's not something that puts people at a distance. But then once you get closer, then you can kind of challenge their sensibilities about what a portrait really is and what makes something abstract and what makes something figurative."