E. K. Huckaby

Clayton State College

E. K. Huckaby is a young painter whose sometimes highly realistic and sometimes abstract works in oil present normal reality in an enigmatic and suggestive manner. He also makes assemblages that are satiric altars, often accompanied by terse poetic statements employing both post-Structural and anticlerical vocabularies. In the last two years he has become more and more prominent through large group exhibitions, and his recent show of new works (all from 1987) in a temporary gallery at Clayton State College in suburban Atlanta has consolidated his presence as an important and idiosyncratic voice in the area.

Huckaby’s works always have a very personal quality and an uneasy edge. His paintings on Masonite panels, all of moderate size, range from slick, highly varnished close-ups of gumball machines, laundromat dryers, and a 25 ¢-a-ride mechanical horse–ordinary machines often presenting the relation of childhood desires to commercial interests–to ambiguous fields of color (as in the peppermint-pink Almost Too Sweet to Smell and the sardine- and algae-colored Plain of Grey). Some combine representational and abstract strategies in a fashion not too distant from that of Ross Bleckner’s chandelier paintings. In Fancy I Am Still in That Sickroom, for example, is a sickroom scene barely visible beneath a murky surface: the color and light in the piece is concentrated in a red, yellow, and deep purple abstract shape in its top half, an abstraction that is, typically for Huckaby, based on fevered vision rather than ideal, organic, or appropriated geometries. His particular comic point of view is evident in Cherubones, on the rich black surface of which floats the scientifically rendered skeleton of a hypothetical cherub, its wingbones outstretched.

His constructions carry his dark imagery into three dimensions and into an aggressive anticlericalism. Eccentric is a reliquarylike assemblage centered around a small altarpiece in which a tiny model of an animal trap takes the place of the cross, surrounded by Victorian braided-hair flowers embroidered on linen and other suggestive found objects. The title refers to the altar’s lack of its usual centerpiece and to the disparate objects, linked only by a narrative association of the present with the past.

In the recent Atlanta Biennale at Nexus Contemporary Art Center, Huckaby created provocative installations through the juxtaposition of his paintings, assemblages, texts, and other objects (such as a three-headed stuffed dog). Some of his works are extremely odd and others display a matter-of-fact realism, which together comprise a systematic and intellectual vision of both the residuum of myth and the dark underside of everyday life. Like Flannery O’Connor, Huckaby combines a criticism of the religion of easy answers and a sense of the grotesque in a deeply felt human comedy. But Huckaby’s language is anchored less in a Southern vernacular than in the vision, the fears, and the desires of childhood.

Glenn Harper