New York

Hugh Kepets

Fischbach Gallery

What is most striking about Hugh Kepets’ new paintings is his insistence on the ambiguity of architectural spaces rendered with total precision. Kepets takes a particular set of close-up details and subjects them to a thorough study. Painted with careful highlight and shadow, each area should be molded into deep three-dimensional space, but isn’t. Paradoxically, each scene remains clearly representational of depth and planes, but reads as a composite of well-balanced geometrical surfaces. Kepets employs rich colors to create a uniformly balanced range of tones, much too potent for realism, yet not in the least disturbing.

In his small line drawings, his primary concern is with linear detail and patterning, revealing the basis of the richly hued paintings. Each set of ledges, windows and railings is described in the drawings by varying densities of straight parallel lines—the closer together, the stronger the area of shadow. Proceeding from the studies, the large paintings can be seen as exercises in laying on color in ways that least disturb the space—balancing the composition of the drawing without creating an illusion of depth.

Achieving this overall balance creates the only tension present in the paintings, when an obviously protruding or receding element is nullified. The bright red railing in Madison Square II, for instance, is rationally placed as if attached at either end to a wall, but appears to be free-floating in space. Nevertheless it forms no alternate plane, being strangely correct mechanically and compositionally perfect. By this insistence on providing 3-D information that reads almost one-dimensionally, Kepets forces an acceptance of things on his terms. If he says that space is flat, it must be, even though all information to the contrary is there.

A similar contradiction is brought out by his use of color. Although deep shadows and recesses are included in many details, Kepets’ technical skill controls resulting contrasts between areas to reduce depth. He paints with a style best described as softened hard-edge, each contoured area consisting of multitudes of parallel straight lines, again using density to produce shadow. Though there is no blending of color or stroke, color is allowed to influence the effect on each area; often negative and positive spaces alternate—the balustrades of a railing either defining abstract shapes or reading as free-standing objects. The sky in Williamsburg Bridge I vacillates between background and foreground in this manner, defining a plane or serving as flat color contrast. A good illustration of Kepets’ paradoxical inclinations, Bridge reduces elements of the bridge construction to a totality of harmonious color, despite accurate detail. Heavy girders cross and recross the space but define it only in terms of composition. The scene appears brightly sun-washed, though shadows abound—again offering information and negating it.

By slicing off only close-ups and details of architectural scenes, Kepets focuses our attention on the intricacies of each object, yet again and again does his best to disguise as much as to define them. While it would be a mistake to limit the effect of his pieces to any one concern (color, composition or space) it would also seem a disservice to generalize about them as a whole. Conveying three distinct kinds of information in a deceptively straightforward way keeps his work constantly intriguing. Rather than dismissing the paintings as appealing geometric abstractions, he forces an appreciation of their content. He is clearly in control of an immense amount of visual information.

Deborah Perlberg