New York

Michael Hurson

Paula Cooper Gallery | 529 West 21st Street

Michael Hurson’s portrait drawings ought to be the easiest things to write about, so sociable, so garrulous do they appear. But they are not easy to write about at all. I think (and the tentativeness that is at the heart of Hurson’s work enforces a reciprocal uncertainty) that this is because the drawings are somehow fugitive, so almost not there that the crude formulations of critical language seem overbearing, threatening to lock them within impossibly immobile interpretations.

What is most remarkable about Hurson’s work is its fluidity. It is not simply that he is extremely fluent in his means, although he does have great technical and stylistic facility. It is also that he has the flexibility of mind to move from medium to medium, from painting to model-building to writing to drawing—a nervous string of activities which share only a sense that identity is somehow constituted from an awareness of style and presentation. And it is also that he has the ambition to find art-making possibilities in small, supposedly unambitious activity. In short it is a probing restlessness that sets Hurson’s work apart from so much of today’s full-speed-ahead, do-it-first, ask-questions-later production.

The decision to make portraits was a stroke of brilliance. At once Hurson was able to solve the thorny problems that plague all artists, problems like subject matter and cash support—after all, if you commission a portrait, you guarantee both. Which freed Hurson to deal with the more abstract notion of representation as such, of the ways we see the world and ourselves within it. By presenting this exploration in discursive terms—many “studies” contributing to a final statement which is not so much an end as a culmination—Hurson demonstrates how we try on styles in our daily lives, demonstrates one of the most abiding connections between esthetic activity and ordinary, day-to-day goings-on. The portrait drawings are dramatizations of style, and of the constraints it imposes on our vision.

Thomas Lawson