Don Hazlitt

Farideh Cadot Associés

Don Hazlitt’s cutout relief paintings are small, portable worlds that you can hold in your hand. They are arrayed along the walls of the gallery, bristling with spikes and bizarre protruberances, offering themselves in their masonry of papier-mâché, cardboard, and other materials. The colors are in outrageously bad taste; these acidic reds, pistachio greens, and lemon yellows are as reprehensible as the color additives in ice cream. The paintings’ declension of color is doubtful and their fleshiness is fake. Gone is the spiritual distinction of the great chromatic walls of “all over”; Hazlitt prefers the farces and pranks of “ordinary” colors, and bursts out laughing at their naive trickery.

But we are not deceived; if color flaunts itself, its vulgar or puerile pretenses are nothing but acerbic. We should put aside the mythology of comics and advertising. The flashiness of these acidulous little contraptions signifies a hallucinatory excess. There is something immoderate here, a deliberate obscenity. Is this a way for the painter to turn painting against itself? It may well be. Color torn from “interiority” and projected onto a ridiculous shape acquires a disconcerting force, indicating energy more than image. It owes its effectiveness to the way in which the reliefs, little by little, have been enriched; through their outlines at the intersections of their surfaces, color—detaching itself boldly from the wall—achieves its maximum intensity. The more dense the colored particles, the sharper the edges.

While Hazlitt’s earlier boxes referred to the framework of painting, the recent paintings, such as Half Heart with Chimney, surreptitiously evoke weapons. Hazlitt, like Man Ray in Alarming Gift, has furnished them with bristly points; one can see them as mechanical piranhas, cacti, or pocket knives with their blades out. Although the work has the appearance of objects without relationship to painting, the resulting reliefs, ironically, continue to refer to painting. New relationships of strength are established, passing through a linear system developed by the logic of the reciprocity of all the elements present. Here we are faced with a coherence that yields in nothing—except in that it is ironic—to the invisible geometry of classical compositions. or to their perversion in the work of Balthus. The threads of iron that escape the little constructions exist in the space around this floating energy. They transmit to the outside the waves that the shapes direct toward the inside. Hence the “box” seems less a substitute for the painting than a device for its unwonted capture. It is proportional to the intimate events it imprisons. In antique sculpture the small format was reserved not only for the anecdotal and comic, but for magical animals and madness as well.

This small format compresses the narrative plot that developed in the previous paintings; the repertory of forms simplifies and sharpens. But, Hazlitt says, it is always a question of “a summary of the events and experiences which have formed my life.” His move from drawings to works in relief is significant in this respect. The former can reveal deliberately discursive elements that are narrated by the least formal touch—the dotting of a line, the smudge that escapes from it; the reliefs transform anecdotes into small monuments. The plot has thickened, so to speak. But do the reliefs make the anecdote clearer? I have Take Off and Sitting in mind; they have, perhaps, lost the mysterious sparkle of the earlier work.

Xavier Girard

Translated from the French by Jamey Gambrel.

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