New York

Joseph Hilton

Monique Knowlton Gallery

It is time to take a closer look at Joseph Hilton. Now, when figurative painting is the trend, this Baltimore - and - Washington - based artist provides an engaging alternative to the current neo-Expressionist fare. Throughout the ’70s and since, Hilton has cultivated a personal style that takes inspiration from pre-High Renaissance modes of rendering people and places. Its trademarks include deliberately, clumsily drawn anatomies, pictographic compositions, and abstract, shallow settings. For subjects Hilton rifles through art history and chooses grand mythological and religious themes, which, in his personal versions, allow him to pay homage to favorite artists such as Masaccio and Piero della Francesca. In many cases the figures are disguised portraits of people known to the artist.

Hilton’s methods are strikingly revealed in the series called “Embarkation for Cythera,” after the famous Watteau painting. It consists of depictions of famous mythological love affairs between Greek gods and ordinary mortals, which end in grief for the deity involved and with the transformation of his or her human partner. Hilton uses a frame-within-a-frame format; his rectangular panels bring to mind the pictographic scenes on Hellenistic and early Christian sarcophagi. The rendering of both the gods and their lovers is at once whimsical and strangely affective. In Transformation of Daphne, 1982, Apollo is shown as a statuelike figure who watches helplessly as Daphne changes from woman to tree; this scene, like the others, takes place against a shallow, abstract, but heavily textured surface. Hilton’s vivid use of color gives these paintings the magical intensity associated with precious ancient and primitive art objects.

Ronny H. Cohen