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Sokka the Parrotlet

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Date Minted:  July 16, 2021

Artist Description: Analog glitch photograph manually blended with digital oil painting. For my KnownOrigin debut, I selected this photo of my beloved Pacific Parrotlet, Sokka, who just turned 7 years old.

CohentheWriter’s Commentary:

You have to dig a bit into Hawkward’s works on KnownOrigin in order to find the artist’s self-professed reason for creation. While the artist’s bio details how she “[enjoys] experimenting with different media including watercolor, ink, oil, digital painting, photography, collage, and poetry, and that her “pieces are very personal and each finished work I release is connected to a memory I experienced,” it’s this tidbit from her description of the series “ERROR: unusual output” that I find most revealing: “Additionally, as someone with several chronic conditions, I find noise to be inevitable in many of my senses. I aim to portray my experience with these stimuli through my photographic work. Conveying emotion and indescribable experiences is the driving force of my creativity.” 

And just like that, the central ordering device of Hawkward’s compositional style become clear. Through these glitchy, hyper-energetic and visually-crammed pieces, the noise of the artist’s daily headspace is conferred with impressive specificity. And what may initially seem to be a detriment to an individual piece (as I’ll explain in a moment) instead becomes a brilliant example of the Impressionism that Hawkward elsewhere mentions her admiration of. When I first came upon Sokka the Parrotlet, my very first thought was “Well, where’s the parrotlet?” In her Artist Description, Hawkward says that, “For my KnownOrigin debut, I selected this photo of my beloved Pacific Parrotlet, Sokka, who just turned 7 years old,” so while I knew the bird was in there somewhere, the composition confounded me. Many (I’m sure) have written about how a piece’s context can completely change our relationship to it, and now, in light of the information I’ve learned, I actually feel so much closer to the artist as a result of Sokka the Parrotlet’s messiness. Because it’s such a powerful distillation of her specific mind. And it’s such a unique blend of abstraction with impressionism, both movements upgraded to 21st century standard with glitch and digitization.

There are few things recognizable about this piece, but the color scheme oh-so-certainly is. It’s classic glitch styling, those kinds of candy wrapper purples and blues and pinks. Almost Vaporwave inspired. One almost gets the impression of movement from the composition, like the colors should be flickering like pixels one to another, blue to pink to purple and back again. I don’t doubt that those colors —which in places wrap around the length of the frame, bespeckled as they are with confetti flecks of turquoise and yellow— do at a certain point converge to create the image of the eponymous parrotlet; perhaps it’s there in the middle of the piece, where two abstract circles, placed a short distance apart, do seem to possess the frenetic emptiness of a bird’s eyes. Thick lines, like fingerpaint trails, denote where those “eyes” are, but they also denote other shapes within the piece. Really, following these fingerpaint trails is the best way Hawkward provides us for finding recognizable imagery within the otherwise abstract explosion. Within these lines, we find a slot of bright turquoise blue in the upper-middle section of the image, flanked on its sides by two thin streamers of equally bright blue coloring that fall in squiggly tentacles down to the bottom edge. The whole jellyfish-like blue section frames the area where Sokka’s “eyes” are, and where, depending on our angle, we might espy his beak as well. Ultimately, we’re playing a large game of Where’s Waldo with a piece like Sokka. In truth, the details are too fuzzy to get a real sense of subject, the composition too noisy and eclectic, the subject itself hidden under the fuzzy and overwhelming colors.

But that’s the rub right there. 

That’s the life experience Hawkward claims to be Impressionistically channelling when she talks about noise as an inevitable part of her existence. Some obscuring force that doesn’t destroy experience, but transmutes it in crucial ways, until the sensation itself becomes the experience, becomes the subject, becomes everything. Hawkward’s work is my first exposure to the idea of circuit-bending, which a little bit of internet digging tells me is “the creative, chance-based customization of the circuits within electronic devices such as low-voltage, battery-powered guitar effects, children's toys and digital synthesizers to create new musical or visual instruments and sound generators…Emphasizing spontaneity and randomness.”

In the very compositional strategy itself is an echo of that same Impressionism, the kind of always-expecting-something mentality that, in my experience with loved ones who battle chronic illnesses, adds a quality of chaos to even mundane moments. Someone I love very much has a condition where histamine cells will go haywire as if she’s having an allergic reaction, and for no reason, creating devastating stomach-aches and nausea with little to no prompting. And it colors every step she takes outside, every trip to the store, every meal; life becomes unpredictable, and hitherto familiar experiences or objects become imbued with a very real and very present danger. That’s such a huge experience to be able to capture with a visual style, and yet here we have Sokka the Parrotlet doing so. 

Yet, if we look at the entire “ERROR: unusual output” series, we find that Sokka is at the far end of the recognizability spectrum herein. Other pieces contain equal noise, but the subject isn’t completely obscured, things are still identifiable. The intertextuality between the pieces only enriches the overall reading. It serves to strengthen the Impressionism, and in a way that communicates a truly intimidating artistic vision. 

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