Alley Horn’s drawings, pastels and paintings pull us into personal spaces, into moments of intimacy and moments of silence — mid-movement, mid-thought, mid-sexual act — giving them back to us to hold, to see, to contemplate. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say to inhabit, since whether we find ourselves in the stale air of a bus station, amongst the simultaneous separate reveries of individuals at a bar, or in the middle of sixty-nining; her works position the viewer matter-of-factly in the room with if not in the eyes of one of the works’ subjects themselves.
Indeed, we are implicated. Often in Horn’s paintings we are entwined in bodies or looking down at our own body in a first-person perspective. What is the work of a first-person painting? Personally, I learned about viewer identification through the study of cinema where the history of the “male gaze” was brought up again and again. Horn’s visual apparatus is anything but.
In Horn’s paintings, women appear more prominently than men. Men are relegated to secondary sexual partners, mostly out frame, often physically diminutive, particularly when compared to their voluptuous female companions. In paintings that feature two women, the secondary partner still feels more present than her male counterparts. Men in Horn’s world are foils in a female narrative, objects of a female gaze that in all cases seems less interested in them and more concerned with personal reflection — confronting without romanticizing what is, observing how two people relate to one another, noticing a moment, often alone, sometimes together, and sometimes more alone seemingly for being together.
Does any loneliness feel as lonely as that which surfaces when with another person? It’s a little bit earth shattering, like tectonic plates shifting. Will the ground open up to an endless chasm or will we be shot up as mountains are crushed together? I feel that Alley’s work has this precarity contained within it. The future is both unknown and imminent, but it’s this present moment that brims with the possibilities of a creation that could emerge equally from a flicker of a decision, or destruction itself.
This element speaks to the narrative quality of Horn’s work. While her more recent drawings situate us less often in a first-person perspective, they too create strong identifications with principal subjects. In these works, Horn zooms out, giving us a wider view. I’m struck by two pieces in particular in which our gaze is angled to look down upon a scene. I am reminded of how we have looked down upon our own body again and again in her paintings. Now, here, we look down upon a character, mid-realization, mid-feeling. These drawings are narrative and psychological, the latter effected in part through this device of perspective. We feel the figures’ uneasiness as we peer over them, perhaps holding our breath as we lean over the image as we would over the edge of a cliff.
Again this precarity, this midway moment in which the entire future seems to be held in the balance. I’m left wondering where Horn’s characters will go. Where will they look and at what will they demand that we look as she allows them to guide us again and again through her tactful framing? What will they implicate us in — as accomplice, as adversary, as naïve witness — whether through their eyes or through their actions? Will she return to first person perspectives in drawing or give us even wider scenes or serial images? No matter our positioning, each story is invariably intimate, personal to the work but familiar enough to allow viewers to quietly exhale in relief, no, we are not alone.
About the artist: Alley Horn is an artist and writer from New York. She is not yet the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship but is manifesting her destiny one bio at a time. Follow her on Instagram @alley.horn or visit her website at www.alleyhorn.com.
About the writer: Tracy Abbott Szatan is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn. She is a 2020 studio resident at Trestle Art Space, an organization with which she just happens to share initials. Her work can be found at www.tracyabbottszatan.com and on instagram @tszatan.