Los Angeles

Jack Hooper

David Stuart Gallery

Powerful, seemingly ponderous pieces with undulating surfaces are called “relief paintings” at Jack Hooper’s one-man show at the David Stuart Galleries. These deceptively light-weight pieces very effectively manage to have one foot planted staunchly in relief sculpture, and the other affixed equally firmly in painting. Liquid surfaces, the color of, variously, old pewter, tanned cowhide, raw liver, and polished mahogany, boil and ooze like primeval lava flows, flooding the elaborately structured relief configurations. Rolls of leather-colored sinew-like material are occasionally stretched across the surface in high relief. Whether underwater or within the earth, few have seen the light of day.

Hooper takes advantage of modern materials. The structural underpinnings are made of cast plastic, with filler materials occasionally used to hasten the construction process in high relief areas. Tremendous energies and tensions are set up as these forms burst through the plane. Plastic paints, either polyester or epoxy based, are then applied one layer at a time and allowed to cure until multiple plys of pigment cover the surface. Each application retains something essential from the previous one; as a result, the color seems to come from within the object and not merely rest on its surface. Sometimes, minute parts of the outer dull-colored layer are eroded away to unlock bits of the jewel-tone color beneath. Despite its brilliance, this color never seems man-made, but reveals instead nature’s best and most minute treasures. The resulting surfaces are excitingly detailed, with no deflation of the total precept.

This is a powerful exhibition and, evaluating it with other recent one-man shows, an important one. If the medium is sometimes obtrusive, it seems to stem from the artist’s enthusiastic exploration of what the materials can do, rather than from deliberate substitution of mere technical bravura for more meaningful goals. For his preoccupation with the ebb and flow of plastic never degenerates into non-directional muscle-flexing, but remains fresh and purposeful. And if Hooper’s soundings are occasionally labored, it should be remembered that Whistler etched for ten years before achieving the familiarity and control necessary for true abandon. Once mastered, technique ceases to intrude. The polyester-based pigments and plastic-casting method that produces Hooper’s convoluted forms do have unique properties which give the artist’s initial commitment to these materials a great deal of credence. With time the already-evident exuberance should prosper.

Virginia Allen