Washington, D.C.

Davi Det Hompson

Henri Gallery

Davi Det Hompson, an artist long associated with Fluxus, is best known for his artist’s books and works on paper that examine the interaction of image, text, and typography. He has always been concerned with the ambiguities and complexities of communication. Given this, the idea of actually making paintings, things that hang on a wall, may seem like a radical departure, but the nine paintings shown here were executed not in paint, but in cement on two-inch-thick, jute-covered wood “modules” in the shape of an oval. And, with the exception of two works that are compound modules, these paintings are small, monochromatic works the color of cement. While their rounded corners and curved sides hint at shields or stylized cloud forms, there is an insistent and overriding concern for the material that echoes arte povera, itself an offshoot of Fluxus. This concern reflects Hompson’s (and Clement Greenberg’s) belief that art is concerned not with optical illusion, but with materials that must be openly declared.

To this end, Hompson titles his works with numbers (50 to 61) so as not to generate meanings separate from the physical substance of the works. He also leaves the jute on the sides of his panels look uncovered, so that the surface is revealed as a thin skin of cement that dispels any suggestion of solidity. Textual variety is achieved either by drawing parallel grooves in the cement or by “dripping” cement onto the surface. The way complex contours and forms are generated from simple, modular shapes is reminiscent of Frank Stella’s work. Unfortunately, this aspect of the work is undercut by the illusionism created by the overlapping of the modules, which is exacerbated by their textual variations. In the “dripped” cement works ambiguities about method and material arise because the wetter, more pliant cement doesn’t retain traces of the artist’s hand. Without mark or gesture to establish these as manmade objects, there is nothing to keep the surface from appearing to be some type of igneous rock. Thus, as object and material (painting and cement) generate illusions, the “weight” of material reality with which Hompson is so concerned tends to slip away.

However, in the paintings with parallel vertical grooves, Hompson achieves a consistent material logic. These works, with neither illusions of space nor geology to interfere, leave room for metaphor (and meaning) in material reality, a reality Hompson carefully charges with traces of human action. Because this action (a series of closely spaced, coarse incisions) does not establish pictorial scale, the surface acquires at once micro- and macrocosmic dialectical overtones—the lines suggesting furrows in a field seen from the sky as well as scabrous wounds.

As the insistent materiality of these works amply demonstrates, for Hompson, art does not spring from pseudomagical incantations or metaphysical speculations, but, rather, it springs from experiential reality. Reflecting a kind of pragmatist philosophy, Hompson’s paintings reaffirm his faith in the physical world.

Howard Risatti