Los Angeles

John Hultberg and Stanley William Hayter

Esther-Robles Gallery

John Hultberg has recently returned from Honolulu, where his manner of working has become steadily more restrictive (which is not to say less cluttered). He has not branched out much over the years: now, it seems, his style has settled in for good.

The Esther-Robles Gallery is showing a group of Hultberg oil paintings and collages, all but two of which were done in 1966–67. The collages, without exception, are characterized by series of images—pictorial or abstract—encased within irregular linear grids. The boundaries are accomplished with black paint, carried over to embellish or veil the contents of the compartments. Comic Strip (1966) is a pattern of obscure newspaper clippings, sketches, etc. tinted blue and brown. Blue Tears is one of many in which spatial recession is suggested by schematic one-point linear perspective (this has long been a favorite trick of Hultberg’s). Golden Grain, from a distance, looks rather like a dramatically lighted photo-montage out of Life magazine (he is a heavy-handed colorist). Its collage imagery is more legible, if not meaningful, than the others, incorporating illustrations of parts of human faces and machines. It is bright ochre below, and blue above, the horizon.

The oil paintings are somewhat more polymorphic. The largest is Ice Age of 1964. It is typically organized into ground and sky, though the composition is looser here. The paint has a washy quality; the sky is a stormy field of grey-blacks and blue; the rest is a scattered pastiche in white, green, grey and black. Fire-Ice Facade (1966) is more open, with refreshingly white paint against which are set—inevitably—successive, flat, multi-shaped, image-filled compartments.

Stanley William Hayter (remembered first as a master printmaker in connection with his Atelier 17 in Paris) has had periodic showings of oil paintings in this country over the last several years. His style has inevitably progressed through various phases in this time, but it remains as instantly recognizable as ever. All the Hayter paintings now at Esther-Robles are involved with colorful waves and tangles of lines. The artist’s primary intention is not at all clear. Some of them seem to be attempts at creating retinal illusionistic effects (sort of an undisciplined Op art). Others, in the vein of a latter-day brand of Abstract Expressionism, merely play upon free-wheeling, densely scribbled line patterns. Seventeen is a confection of magenta, yellow, orange, lime-green and blue. Though not totally satisfying, it has a verve that the others somehow lack. A series of four diamond-shaped paintings might have been conceived as a chromatic exercise, except that there is nothing unexpected or instructive in comparing them. The nicest, Emeraude, is mostly green with some orange and yellow stripes and cloudy white smudges of paint. It manages to convey some sensation of depth and luminosity.

Jane Livingston

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