James Hendricks

Helen Shlien Gallery

Esthetically perceived cognitions are often substantiated by science. Thus Giotto’s apprehension of weight, mass, and perspective were given “objective veracity” by Renaissance scholarship, while Freud generously acknowledged that poets and philosophers had recognized the unconscious before his own divination of it. A similar interplay of analytical theory and sensed perception activates James Hendricks’ new paintings, which intuit new theories of physics with a taut energy.

Grand unified theories suggest a web of connections among all things in the universe, beginning at the first moments of time and moving on a continuum into the future. As Zen masters viewed contradiction as dual aspects of an essential, empyreal symmetry, or William Blake saw the world in a grain of sand, so physicists now theorize that a single force in nature once obtained, that all particles of matter contain a history of the universe, and that chance and uncertainty were present at the inception of time and have been present throughout cosmic evolution.

Even if we didn’t have access to these ideas, we could look at Hendricks’ paintings and get an idea of them. Hendricks’ current work evolved from his late ’60s paintings of the moon, which were inspired by NASA space shots of lunar topography. Hendricks broke into abstraction with the perception that the mind’s eye equals the camera’s. His undergraduate affection for Jackson Pollock’s work resurfaced in the ’70s in fiercely gestural imaginary moonscapes. Conveying energy and struggle, they lacked resolution, as if Hendricks were applying ever more sophisticated techniques without the anatomy of meaning. But the new paintings are grounded in an expressive content of extremely broad sweep. They combine a dynamic and deft handling of paint with metaphorical allusion to the interactive nature of all matter. Their subject is both celestial and subatomic; they describe things immense and minute, which one does not see and has never seen.Yet the familiarity of their imagery supports the implication that knowledge is intrinsic, and may be intuitively expressed and instinctively grasped.

Hendricks offers a slice of the universe and a window on the void. He maintains tension on the tightrope between illusionism and flatness. Peering through a glass darkly into an antigravitational realm, the viewer is simultaneously made aware of the physicality of surface, as swift layers of poured, squeezed, scraped, and stained saturated color sensuously eliminate distinctions between figure and ground. The whirling velocity of explosive movements recalls Leonardo’s deluge, yet Hendricks’ vision is not apocalyptic but metaphoric. The circle is used as a unifying form, encasing the evolving and fantastic celerity of celestial (and particle) bodies moving through space and time, without discernible logic beyond their interior propulsion, a need to be.

In a time when the pervasive modes reflect fragmentation and despair, Hendricks’ holistic synthesis of the Apollonian/Dionysian schism may ironically shock. He engages intellect, soul, and libido. Is he wearing blinders? No; his subject is elemental, it stretches beyond the particular moment toward the continuous moment. These paintings awaken associations with integral spheres of being, rife with possibility and chance, where stasis is negated by the exuberance of discovery.

Nancy Stapen