Los Angeles

Violet Hopkins

Violet Hopkins’s recent exhibition at David Kordansky Gallery consisted of five large-scale paintings on paper, the biggest over ten feet long and five feet high. The title of the show, “Chromatophoric,” refers to a kind of pigment-producing cell found in squid, many fish, and certain reptiles, which allows them to change hue when threatened or in the mood to mate. For Hopkins, the discovery of scientific evidence linking the biological generation of color to its function as an expression of an emotional state was a profound breakthrough, and its implications infuse her recent work.

Hopkins’s fascination with color in and of itself is emphasized by the fact that she mixes her inks directly on the paper, allowing the slippery blend to generate its own organic shapes (the water also causing the paper to buckle and warp). Isolated at the edges of the page, each of her pigments is thus visible individually before becoming a component of the meticulously detailed landscapes that are the literal centers of each work. From a distance, the paintings look like amorphous cosmic patterns and generate a vertiginous tension between chaotic abstraction and precise representation.

Coral Ring (all works 2006) is the largest work in the show, and is also the most impressive. Though the painting is dominated by pinks, blacks, grays, greens, and oranges, a hint of turquoise reminds us that this is an underwater view. Each color has been diluted on the outer edge of the sheet so that thin veins trickle into the center, where a thriving reef comes into microscopic focus and animals emerge from hiding. The exactitude with which the fish, coral, anemones, sharks, and eels are rendered makes the work seem almost hallucinatory, a slice of real life that’s stranger than fiction.

In Jungle with Jaguar, dense greenery surrounds an elaborate central image of trees and lichen-covered timber. Hopkins’s aerial perspective also reveals a jaguar resting on the forest floor. In Bamboo with Snake, the viewpoint moves lower as we gaze through a thicket of bamboo stalks at a snake resting in a pile of fallen leaves. Here the palette appears on the left, an area already dense with color, and the forest fades diagonally toward the right, finally disappearing into the light in the upper corner. Two paintings of bat caves reveal a darker side of the natural world, and of the artist, and the murkiness of the caves provides a nice contrast to the vivid intensity of the reef, the jungle, and the forest. In Cavern with Bats, orange and red break into a predominantly black and brown color scheme, and the bats are camouflaged in their dark dwelling, where they hang like the stalactites that surround them. Cave with Bat depicts a solitary creature flying out of a gloomy crevice.

Hopkins’s magical paintings pay homage to color and communicate a childlike love of animals and, of course, of color. But despite her simple affection for the timeless visual appeal of lush natural scenes, there’s nothing childish about her technique.

Amra Brooks