Gregory Horndeski

Alternate Gallery

Gregory Horndeski is a self-taught painter who puts his professional training in mathematics and science to good use in his new “Physics Series,” 1988. The paintings, with such titles as Studying Elementary Particles on a Summer Day, 1988, and Thoughts upon a Bouncing Universe, 1988, have wide black frames covered with white-painted text by the artist. On Coming to Grips with Gravity, 1988, he writes, “On this frame I discuss just about everything I know about gravity.” Horndeski proceeds to write nearly 1000 words on the theories of Newton, Einstein, and others. The text not only covers the front of the frame but runs along the edges as well, and Horndeski provides a small mirror (on a hook next to the painting) so that upside-down and inverted lettering can be read. In this painting, as in all the others, the information is accurate and dense, but the tone is conversational and engaging, reminiscent of books aimed at the sophisticated layman.

The image inside the frame is a fantastical scene that recurs in several of the paintings. In a landscape of impossibly triangular and tree-covered mountains, a tiny cabin is perched atop the most prominent peak. One side of the cabin is cut away to reveal a seated figure working by lamplight. Tiny white stars fill a night sky dominated by ten enormous swirling planets; Jupiter and Saturn put in double appearances.

Horndeski works by pouring acrylic paints onto a horizontal surface and manipulating them with knives and spatulas. He has learned to exploit this extremely restrictive technique to maximum effect. Working with a palette of harsh bright colors (the kind one finds on children’s plastic toys), he composes his images from an allover pattern of dots, swirls, and swipes that constitute a sincere homage to Van Gogh. His scenes feature extreme perspectives and spaces so deep that their horizon lines sometimes incorporate the curve of the earth. A jagged, sawtooth line rips away the tops and sides of structures, confounding boundaries of inside and outside and allowing day and night to coexist in most pictures. The layers of quickly dried acrylic build up in a way that gives the paintings an odd, manufactured look, one that is animated by a unique human intelligence but strangely devoid of human touch.

Although Horndeski’s drawing ability is slight—his figures are better the nearer they come to being tiny blobs of color—he has developed a style well suited to the directness of his subject matter. His paintings of political terror and social injustice, such as KKK Grand Dragon Addresses His Ghoulish Nightcrawling Fellow Klansworms, 1988, are fueled by a moral outrage that slips frequently into a monotonously strident tone. His best pieces, however, depict an Everyperson struggling to get by in a universe that is possibly benign but certainly indifferent.

In all his work, Horndeski demonstrates a genuine craving to make sense of things, one that is manifested as much in a simple image of a couple walking in the woods as in a lengthy disquisition on particle physics. But the artist’s fury is never far below the surface. As he remarks in one of his frequent artist’s statements, Horndeski is gathering evidence for a “future lawsuit against the absurdity of existence.”

Charles Dee Mitchell