Hilary Gent Brings 'Properties of Water' to Waterloo

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"Spirit of Water #1" oil on panel, 48x60" 2016
  • "Spirit of Water #1" oil on panel, 48x60" 2016
Perhaps the highlight of May’s Walk All Over Waterloo event is the return of local artist, gallery owner and event planner Hilary Gent to the Maria Neil Art Project. In a follow-up to Aftermath, her first exhibition at MNAP, Gent explores Properties of Water. The exhibition opens with a reception from 5 to 10 p.m. this Friday, May 6.

Although she might be better known for her roles as director of HEDGE Gallery, in-house events coordinator at 78th Street Studios and curator of artwork at Severance Hall, Hilary Gent is, at heart, a painter. She studied painting at Kent State University, earning her BFA in 2003.

Properties of Water is an exploration of the distinctive qualities and emotional essence of water. One of the four western classical elements, water is also associated with the feminine (with fire being the masculine). In most religions, water is considered a purifying gift for healing and cleansing. Gent’s goal is to capture the ephemeral nature of a glimmering ripple or a distorted reflection. Although a very different subject than Aftermath, Properties of Water continues Gent’s exploration of abstraction, color and form.

“Studying water in its many states has inspired me to further abstract brushwork, color and form,” Gent explains. "Properties of Water is an exploration back to nature, and by focusing on water I've been able to step away from painting literal structures in the urban landscape, which has influenced so much of my past work.”
Shortly after the Maria Neil Art Project opened on Waterloo, John Farina and Adam Tully invited Gent to exhibit Aftermath, a series of paintings inspired by the destruction of a 2011 fire that burned a 20,000 square foot industrial building just feet from her studio and gallery at 78th Street Studios.

“Similar to the 2013 exhibition, this show is also a journal of my process and emotional connection with the subject matter," Gent says. “No tragedy or destruction this time around, instead an attempt to communicate the essence of water in its many dynamic properties."

Aftermath was powerful, and it was apparent that Gent was exploring themes of memory (and its deterioration) through painterly abstraction.

"Hilary's Aftermath was the culmination of a traumatic event that had the potential to damage her business and alter her ability to create as an artist,” explains MNAP co-founder Adam Tully. “Instead, that negative energy was utilized to create splendidly rendered abstractions from the chaos that remained. Whether works on canvas or cobbled together bits of ephemera, Hilary approached this show with a grace that I've yet to see repeated by another artist experiencing a similar event. Almost two years later, we are greeted with the constant, calming, and colorful interpretations of the Rocky River. A departure from the organized chaos of the previous show, Properties of Water is a yearlong reflection of the waterway by her home. The work is even more beautiful in person."

This month, the gallery invites Gent back to exhibit this new body of work. Although both HEDGE and MNAP are actively seeking to represent emerging and established local artists, they insist the relationship is more symbiotic than competitive.

“It is especially humbling that Hilary Gent chose to be represented by us,” says John Farina. “Since we are both in the gallery business, one might think we are competitors (and certainly in a sense we are), but I see us more as partners in ensuring the work of Cleveland artists is well represented and finds a place in collections in Cleveland and beyond. For Hilary to trust us to exhibit and promote her personal work is a great honor. There’s no doubt in my mind that this will be another successful showing of her work.”

Properties of Water remains on view through June 19. There’s also plenty more to see throughout the neighborhood’s many galleries, small businesses and arts organizations during May’s Walk All Over Waterloo.

(Maria Neil Art Project) 15813 Waterloo Rd., 216-481-7722, marianeilartproject.com.

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