Critics’ Picks

Hugo Wilson, Merchant, 2011–12, oil on panel, 47 1/4 x 37 3/8".

Hugo Wilson, Merchant, 2011–12, oil on panel, 47 1/4 x 37 3/8".

Los Angeles

Hugo Wilson

Nicodim Gallery | Los Angeles
1700 S Santa Fe Avenue #160
March 31–May 12, 2012

Hugo Wilson’s sumptuous oil paintings and delicate drawings, rendered in a dramatic-realist style reminiscent of Dutch masters, depict endearingly quirky subjects—a proboscis monkey elegantly perched in a wooden frame; a collection of claws, feathers, creatures, and a highly detailed human heart—that charm and seduce viewers into the more implicit topic of his work: the amorphous space in which meaning is made. Wilson gravitates toward the past but is informed by a contemporary idea; hauntology, recently in vogue in literary theory, came to light with Jacques Derrida’s Spectres de Marx (1993), which explores Marxism as haunting capitalism. Derrida in turn referenced psychoanalysts Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, who posited the ghost as a secret passed down through generations. Distinguishing between the two, writer and theorist Colin Davis explains that “[Derrida’s] phantoms lie about the past whilst [psychoanalytic] specters gesture towards a still unformulated future.” This is fertile terrain for art, and Wilson mines it to create beautifully rendered pictures that cast meaning as an apparition molded from suggestion, inference, and active participation. Perusing a grid of drawings, all the same size and identically framed, the viewer seeks connections both superficial and abstruse—that feather is repeated here; this creature seems plucked from Hieronymous Bosch; a sense of voodoo pervades these sketches—and the space between object and idea springs to animated life. In Wilson’s Rembrandt-esque paintings of animals, the cows and monkeys bear expressions akin to wry smiles or wily winks; they are clearly keen on the game.