Hannah Greely is from Texas, but lives and works in Los Angeles. Viewed from a distance, Greely's works might be mistaken for everyday items or, in an artistic context, readymades. On closer inspection they reveal themselves to be sculptures that have been painstakingly crafted in a wide variety of materials, including plastiline, papier mâché, moulded plastic, coconut fibre, painted resin, and bronze.
The sculptures are typically imitations of banal objects such as beer bottles, a coat stand, a doormat, or a ladder, but Greely manipulates their forms, adding elements to them to achieve an unreal, dreamlike appearance.
Greely is often grouped together with other young artists from USA's west coast who studied at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) under sculptor Charles Ray in the early 2000s. Artists such as Frank Benson, Matt Johnson, and Greely share a common interest in figurative sculpture bordering on the formalistic, with almost hyper-realistic surfaces, combined with a drive to experiment with unusual materials. There are surrealistic qualities in the ways Greely manipulates size and scale, combines dream and reality, and makes strange objects of familiar ones. However, in contrast to the eroticism underlying much of the surrealists' exploration of dreams and the subconscious in the 1920s and 30s, Greely's sculptures seem rather to tend to the pre-sexual, manifesting a fascination with childhood innocence, imagination, and a form of playful naivety.
As the viewer approaches her sculptures, what seemed initially to be run-of-the-mill, everyday objects reveal themselves in a different light. A coat stand, for instance, turns out to be made of cow bones (Last Stand, 2006). At this point an ambivalent psychological attitude creeps up on the viewer; one is attracted and repelled at the same time. What seemed familiar has suddenly assumed a strange and uncomfortable guise. The displacement felt in this move from expectation to actuality is a typical feature of Greely's art, as in Collapsed Sculpture (2004). This takes the form of a huge, squashed insect. Playing on the conflict between what we think we see (a squashed fly) and what we actually see (a sculpture, as the title insists), the work illustrates how the expectations that are created in us by familiarity, can breed moments of blindness.
Drawing together elements from completely disparate areas, Greely – by means of purely formal similarities and visual analogies – sets in motion a string of associations. In her eyes a duck seen from behind can suddenly resemble a bicycle helmet (Weaver, 2000), a turtle resembles the form of a boat turned upside down (Scout, 2009), and a snake resembles a walking stick (Charmer, 2011). There is a genial humour to the works, they are subtle, charming, and bizarre, and they stimulate a moment of heightened aesthetic awareness – a momentary sharpening of the senses.
Greely's art reminds us that anyone who seeks connections, will succeed in finding them pretty much everywhere. The significance we apply to objects, and the feeling we invest in them, is in reality a reflection of our selves and the culture we are immersed in. In the end Greely seems driven to explore the question of why we humans have such a constant need to seek out meaning in lifeless objects – the objects themselves are indifferent to her quest.