This tale is true, and mine. It tells
How the sea took me, swept me back
And forth in sorrow and fear and pain,
Showed me suffering in a hundred ships,
In a thousand ports, and in me…
- The Seafarer
The title of David Hilliard's current exhibit at Yancey Richardson Gallery, The Tale is True, comes from The Seafarer, an epic poem about the trials of life at sea. In reading the above quote, included in the press release, I was reminded of another show, two years ago at Friedrich Petzel Gallery. Sean Landers' Around the World Alone traces the life of a clown on a solitary course around the world, each panel depicting the clown at different stages of his life and journey.
Both The Tale Is True and Around The World Alone have literary roots, with Landers drawing inspiration from The Odyssey and The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Beyond those narratives, these series are firmly anchored in real and personal stories. Like Hilliard's diaristic portraits of his life and family, Sean Landers work also includes autobiographical elements. From is automatic writings, to these paintings where the clown has been interpreted as stand-in for the artist, self is a recurring theme of Landers work.
In addition to Homer and Coleridge, Landers was particularly drawn to the story of the 1968 Sunday Times Golden Globe Race. Nine men set off on a non-stop, solo yatch-race around the world. Starting from the UK only five men made it beyond the Atlantic ocean, one man got as far south as the Cape of Good Hope before giving up, one ship sank, and another contestant committed suicide. Only one man completed the race.
Whether through quiet portraits documenting the changing relationship between a father and son, or a sailor battling loneliness and the elements, at their core Hilliard and Landers work is about the struggle to define yourself against whatever odds, with both finding a metaphorical kinship with the sea.