Farrar Hood Cusomato Opens at Space 204
by Megan Kelley
“Nature is a form of salvation,” and Frontier, Farrar Hood Cusomato’s exhibition of oil paintings, treads between artifact and icon to this idea. Depicted in naturalistic settings or accessing a theatre of drama and meaning, the smooth marks and mystical forms carry a vitality and presence. They speak of passages and crossings: literal journeys through tangled brush and forest, and the psychological boundaries between acknowledgment and growth.
“Being in nature is easy to romanticize, and I oscillate between wanting to be more ‘in’ and recognizing the harshness it demands.”
Beginning from collaged sets of staged and found photographs and reference images, the paintings sometimes wait years for the right elements to be discovered and included. Though the figures’ features are typically modeled after family or friends, Hood Cusomato explains that often the figures themselves have actually been “inserts, versions of self-portraits” who inhabit the constucted spaces, equipped with props drawn from Hood Cusomato’s childhood. The hand-me-downs and heirlooms form attempts to create order out of the unknown and make sense through the security of pattern, creating an emblematic vocabulary as evocative as it is familiar, simultaneously comfortable and yet mysterious for its role.
After the environments are articulated into oil paint, they do not feel like dream states or the surreal liminal struggles of Hood Cusomato’s earlier work. These are active, woke participants, their gazes caught in the middle of a personal quest. The decision to engage the scenes through oil paint creates a sense of continuity and cohesiveness. Rather than feeling out of place or transported into their spaces, the figures impart a sense of ownership and authority, inhabiting the landscape or channeling its wisdoms with unassailable confidence, mythic archetypes of the wilderness they have come to claim.
“Being in nature is easy to romanticize,” Hood Cusomato admits, “and I oscillate between wanting to be more ‘in’ and recognizing the harshness it demands. There are decisions that have to be made, dominion that has to be asserted.” The woods within her paintings form grounds for a test, a trial of survival, a proving ground for personal revelation: “What do you do when confronted with something that doesn’t even concern itself with you,” whose reasons are so removed from any consequence to you that you couldn’t even describe their intentions as malevolent?
In their careful depictions, the works themselves pace this conceptual territory somewhere between a cautionary tale and a prayer. A coiled rattlesnake forms the center of a crocheted rug; a child’s plastic toys are scattered across a doily, as if throwing bones for an oracle’s forecast; paper scatters across the borrowed scene of animals gathered in fictionalized harmony, as if making an offering. The body of work murmurs half- understood wisdoms, and together they form a powerful folkloric structure. We know these to be fictional constructions, but like the best fairytales, we also understand them to speak fundamental truths, their power waiting simply to be heard.
Frontier is on view through March 17 at Space 204 in the E. Bronson Ingram Studio Art Building located on Vanderbilt’s campus. For more information, visit www.vanderbilt.edu/arts. See more of Farrar Hood Cusomato’s work online at www.farrarhc.com.