New York

Cham Hendon

Phyllis Kind Gallery

Cham Hendon, the “Bad Painter” of lapidary surfaces, has moved from the land of American banalities to a more lyrically fictive realm. For several years he has synthesized portraits of the modern French masters and renditions of their work, but these earlier depictions were treated as cultural pinups, images likely to turn up, shrunken and color processed, in the empty hotel rooms and municipal offices for which his paintings were best known. Monet, for one, remains a stock presence in a couple of Hendon’s new works, but he is no longer simply a paragon for provincials as he walks guests through his Technicolor garden, or peers out through dark, cool shades.

The other paintings in this show are American scenarios that refer to American styles. A capsized Sunday sailor does the crawl in Escape from Bridge Hampton, 1983, a goosing of Neil Jenney’s late-’60s style; That Lovely Little War, 1983, is a pseudo-Luminist evocation of the battle zone at San Juan Hill, with a pseudo-pentimento of Teddy Roosevelt brooding in the lower right corner; Retreat from Salt Lake City, 1983, a seascape of synchronized swimmers, involves a topographical text by Gertrude Stein; the orange-and-black scene of a flaming plane crash is an ambitious riposte to the folk-tabloid urban apocalypses of Roger Brown; in Indian Summer, 1983, heads bob in an aqueous afterlife, and the Indian Point nuclear plant north of New York is an upper-canvas horizon.

Up close, the surfaces look like parti-colored malachite, an effect achieved through a mixture of rhoplex and acrylic which is poured onto a horizontally flat canvas, then covered and baked with chicken-brooder lamps. The images depend utterly on this sealing process, and are transfixed in it. Hendon’s paintings, with the exception of Indian Summer, physically the thinnest piece included, exist in a state of definitive completion, as though colored by number. But his themes are becoming more “serious”—there were outright Thornton Wilderisms here—and his elaborate, deliberately gimmicky technique, though it may approach the virtuoso range, is itself running a real risk of banality.

Lisa Liebmann