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Evening on Lake Erie, 2020


Akron Locks and Summit Lake, 2022

Lake Erie Wonder, 2022

Hilary Gent (1980 -)

About the art and artist

Hilary Gent has been exploring the character and moods of Lake Erie in a series of “waterscapes” that has continued over several years. As she explained to Brittany M. Hudak in the CAN Journal in 2018: “Water is a subject matter that helps me break away from representation just enough to explore and create abstract shapes. The light and shadow on the water are constantly shifting, so I gather information via sightseeing and photography and manipulate it in my studio …” While we are on, or looking at, large bodies of water, we can experience the meditative effects that the artist captures here and which recommended these works for inclusion in the Summa Collection.

Gent is not only an ambitious painter of “industrial landscapes,” but also the founder, in 2009, of HEDGE Gallery. HEDGE is located in the 78th Street Studios building in West Cleveland and is dedicated to showing the work of “the freshest contemporary artists,” featuring regular exhibitions and participation in cooperative activities that Gent helps to organize throughout the multi-artist complex.

She also curates work for other settings in and around Cleveland and across Northeastern Ohio. In her spare time, she delivers and installs art, and is an event planner. Gent earned a B.F.A. in painting from Kent State University and has been active and visible on the Cleveland art scene ever since. She has served on the board of SPACES Gallery and also as one of the team of curators of the 2018 Cleveland Artists Network (CAN) Triennial

Where you can see more of this artist’s work

Gent uses her gallery as her studio – you can find her painting there most days, and her work is included with that of other artists that HEDGE represents on its website. She has had solo shows at ArtSeen in Vermillion and at the Ingenuity Fest in Cleveland, as well as at the Kent State University Eells Gallery at Blossom Music Centre, and many others in the greater Cleveland area, where she is also a regular participant in group exhibitions, such as at Worthington Yards. She is also represented in the Cleveland Artist Registry. You will find work commissioned from her in locations such as the planned Sherwin-Williams headquarters near Public Square and carta, the Cleveland Art Association, as well as in other corporate and private settings across Northeastern Ohio.

Other artists in the Summa Collection who explore abstraction in landscapes can be found in the entries for Michael Greenwald, James Rehmus and Caroline Rowntree.

More about Akron Locks and Summit Lake

Akron Locks, 2022 Summit Lake, 2022

Akron Locks, Summit Lake

Materials: Oil on canvas each 20" x 20"

Location at Summa: Akron Campus, Volunteer Services Offices. These works were specifically commissioned for this location by Summa Health.


About the work

These two works focus on Summit County water features that played key roles in the Ohio and Erie Canal

Akron Locks captures a summer afternoon near downtown Akron, with water splashing, almost audible, down a series of steps in the man-made channel. It's clear from the lively brushstrokes and brilliance of white foam that this is a portrait of water which is contained but not subjugated by the built environment. Brilliant sunlight on the growth on either side of the lock and sunlight on its left wall feel celebratory.

The locks in Akron (and elsewhere along the Canal) were part of the early commercial effort to create reliable and efficient transportation between the Ohio River and Lake Erie, with that transportation supporting communication, trade, and early industry. Since Akron (and Summit County) is some 340' higher than the canal when it reached Lake Erie in Cleveland, boats on the waterway needed a means to ascend and then descend as they crossed the north-south continental divide. (Before the locks were begun in 1825, Native Americans and then early settlers had to carry, or "portage", the contents of their water vessels up or down the rivers in this region (hence the names for such local features as Portage County and Portage Path

Summit Lake just south of downtown Akron, was formed by the retreating glacier in Ohio millions of years ago and was part of the traverse by which native peoples portaged vessels between the Cuyahoga and Tuscarawas Rivers. It was, with Akron, the highest point along the Ohio and Erie Canal and so the Canal project incorporated the lake into its system of waterways. Thus, it, too, belongs to the water profile of Summit County, along with the many locks, traces of which remain.

Hilary Gent here emphasizes the lake's natural beauty, restored again after decades of disuse and abuse. Its waters swirl under cloudy skies (typical northeastern Ohio weather!) and are framed by woodlands that recall the area's original Tamarack forests.

Both canvases were painted using reference photos while the artist would zoom outdoors to glimpse the beaches of Lake Erie and nearby Rocky River for more immediate water inspiration. This during pandemic lockdown and with a new baby.

More about Lake Erie Wonder

Lake Erie Wonder, 2022 

Materials and dimensions: latex house paint on canvas, 36" x 96"

Location at Summa:  Juve Family Behavioral Health Pavilion, ground floor, main lobby, north wall.

This work was commissioned by Summa Health for this particular location.


About the art and the artist:

This dazzling image of Ohio's favorite Great Lake is one of a series of poured paintings that Hilary Gent has done to celebrate that lake, which borders her neighborhood.  These paintings often tend toward the calm, meditative response that a large body of water, in a placid state, can produce, as can be seen in another painting in this series in the Summa Collection, Evening on Lake Erie.  However, she explores many variations in the mood of the lake through the light and color in the skies and on the shores, and then as these are reflected in its waters.  

Here she reveals the lake in a more energetic state, water swirling and eddying in the foreground as it reflects a suddenly illumined streak -- a contrail? -- in the sunset sky, above a distant shore.  The artist tells us that the pouring technique reinforces her interest in the water's movement and in her own act of interpreting it.

It's useful for us to notice how Gent has used color and shape/form here,: The brilliant colors of the sky are represented in mostly horizontal pours (see entry on Evening on Lake Erie, above, for a description of the technique she uses here), while the deep blues, even blacks, of the water in the foreground contrast by swirling, almost boiling, especially where it repeats the hot sunset hues, pinks, oranges, reds, even a reddish brown.  We notice, too, that the artist surprises us with purple and green in liminal areas.

The deliberate use of non-representational tools such as form and color to express an idea, a mood, an atmosphere -- something that originated in painting in the nineteenth century with artists like J.M.W.Turner and the Impressionists, emphasizing the painting as painting -- comes through most forcefully in that contrail: It ascends as a bright yellow diagonal in the sky, and then, to contrast, on the water Gent turns it into rotating circular forms -- gyres and ripples. She delights in working out the transformation in a way that surprises and then delights us as we contemplate a wonderful moment.

In Lake Erie Wonder and her other "Eriescapes," Hilary Gent plays variations on a theme, representing interpretations which we might consider a cumulative portrait of the lake, through its ever-changing moods and appearances.

More about Evening on Lake Erie

Materials: House paint on canvas, 24” x 48”

Location at Summa Health:  Dr. Gary B. and Pamela S. Williams Tower on the Akron Campus (141 N. Forge St.), blue neighborhood, 6th floor between patient rooms H6-105 and H6-106.

Hilary Gent has been exploring the character and moods of Lake Erie in a series of “waterscapes” that has continued over several years. As she explained to Brittany M. Hudak in the CAN Journal in 2018: “Water is a subject matter that helps me break away from representation just enough to explore and create abstract shapes. The light and shadow on the water are constantly shifting, so I gather information via sightseeing and photography and manipulate it in my studio …” While we are on, or looking at, large bodies of water, we can experience the meditative effects that the artist captures here and which recommended this work for inclusion in the Summa Collection.

The feeling of liquidity in this canvas comes not only from its subject but also from Gent’s technique, which we can best appreciate at close range. Rather than brushing on the paint, she uses a gravity assist to pour pre-mixed, commercially available house paint colors from plastic cups directly onto the stretched, unprimed canvas lying on the floor. She controls the paint by the height, speed, and direction of the pour as well as by the size of the cup. The paint dries relatively quickly and often in heavy pools that may undergo crackling as they dry, sometimes due to water added to thin them. This technique necessarily gives the large abstract areas of unmodulated color a painterly look (that is, there are no lines except at the contours between adjacent pools of color), an effective way of capturing the changing light on the fluid motion of water. You may already know of other artists who pioneered paint-pouring in the 1950s and ‘60s: Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler; you can see Gent’s contemporary version at the CAN Journal online.

But rather than technique, we might first be struck by the artist’s use of unexpected colors for sky and water. She lives near the lake, and while she sometimes takes snapshots or video onshore or while boating or kayaking, she is mostly inspired by the impressions and experiences of light and color during these encounters, keeping them in her head. So her colors range impressionistically and emotionally rather than descriptively. Here, an evening sun, now set, has thrown a brilliant orange glow into the heavens and waters, separated from each other only by a narrow, shadowed shoreline. On the lake’s surface, we find reflections and refractions: a range of oranges, reds, yellows, and even blacks overwhelming the blues we stereotypically associate with water. Light is also fading: The blacks and browns nearest to us swallow light and create an ominous zone that, with the more vivid colors under the ember-hued sky, induces a slight sense of unease.


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