Los Angeles

James Hyde

Angles Gallery

Like ruins from some future archaeological dig, James Hyde’s nonrepresentational “frescoes” on large chunks of Styrofoam give suggestive shape to the fleeting landscape of the present. Unlike much theory-fueled abstract painting, Hyde’s works are at once elusive and materialist, playful and rigorous. They manage to carve out a paradoxical place for themselves by letting the present slip silently away, but not without surreptitiously exerting a slight spin on its invisible trajectory.

Hyde’s paintings work in the space between memory and experience. As ungraspable recollections or fluid distortions, they invite you to reinvestigate the evidence, matching it against what you thought you saw, but are uncertain whether it belonged to the painting’s surface, the surrounding light, or your mood’s influence on your perceptual acuity. The desire to put parts back together is held in lively tension with the impulse to keep them apart. More than his previous multipart hybrids of painting and sculpture, his frescoes on Styrofoam refrain from illustrating ideas or coming to rational conclusions. The lushly brushed faces of Point (all works 1993) and Call measure approximately four-by-four feet and four-by-eight feet respectively and protrude more than two feet from the gallery wall. Even the nearly weightless (yet seemingly weighty) Styrofoam emphasizes the paintings’ concrete specificity, it also functions to undercut the Minimalist-derived fascination with brute materiality. Hyde’s frescoes are at once complete and fragmentary, as if they are all that remains of some monumental piece of broken architecture. Their cheap, impossible-to-recycle, and politically incorrect packaging material functions structurally and rhetorically. The central illusion it attacks is the outdated yet persistent contention that abstract painting’s logic is closed, its history written, and its intention fixated on quasi-religious transcendence.

Hyde’s glass-encased paintings made from oil paint mixed with axle-grease, frame the radical temporal collapse between Renaissance frescoes and postindustrial Styrofoam in terms of the disjuncture between painterly gestures and the tendency to see these marks as unmediated transcriptions of the unconscious. Hermetically sealed, like giant microscope slides visible only from the back side, the abstract smears that accumulate to complete a painting record a movement that takes artist and viewer further and further apart. By turning painting around on itself, Hyde demonstrates that the origins of this activity do not reside in the artist’s biography or consciousness. On the contrary, by locating the viewer behind or underneath, as well as before the transparent ground on which he paints, he asserts that the activity of looking is the generative source out of which painting builds.

Everything begins, in Hyde’s art, with a perspicacious, ambivalent, and contradictory reading of American formalism. In contrast to more flamboyant and widely celebrated artists who take the writings of Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried to constitute a strict set of rules that have been shattered, Hyde perversely safeguards an otherwise thoroughly misinterpreted chunk of history that may play a bigger role in the future, if painting’s peculiar pleasures have much to say to us.

David Pagel