Critics’ Picks

Bob Hooper, quiddity, 2020, oil on canvas, 40 x 40".

Bob Hooper, quiddity, 2020, oil on canvas, 40 x 40".

Chicago

Bob Hooper

Regards
2216 West Chicago Avenue
January 15–February 27, 2021

Throughout Bob Hooper’s exhibition of abstract paintings at Regards is a recurring motif: a “circle-square,” to borrow the artist’s term for it. It feels oddly familiar, calling to mind a teardrop, a punctuation mark, a speech bubble, an element of a floor plan, or perhaps even some type of wayfinding marker. And yet, subjected to Hooper’s inversions and manipulations, the circle-square elides any sort of referential comprehension, taking on a life of its own and infusing the show with an unstable, electric energy.

A trio of pared-down and identically sized paintings—quiddity, figment, and opaque thought (all works cited, 2020)—march like soldiers down the gallery’s longest wall with varied, subtly graphic combinations of soft white and safety yellow, along with more architectonic details rendered in brown and black. Hooper delicately draws attention to the handmadeness of this esoteric symbology with imperfectly taped edges and stray swoops of paint that gently blemish immaculate fields of color, or the works’ sides. Other shaped canvases set egg-like geometric forms against dusky, variegated grounds (or what the artist calls “scrims”) that conjure both the depths of the cosmos and a heightened sense of painterly surface play. Nearby a pair of square paintings upend this metaphysical dynamic, using negative white space to delineate sliced and exploded quatrefoils against their mottled surfaces. The tension Hooper creates in his smartly conceived compositions is almost uncomfortably palpable.

Although Hooper’s art references design, architecture, and the legacies of Minimalist painting, the images are compellingly irreconcilable. His work sends you looking around the room—and then back to the world outside—in search of the missing pieces to these seductively disorienting visual puzzles.