Daniel Hesidence: 1779 / Pedestrians at Feature Inc
November 6 to December 7, 2008
276 Bowery, between Houston and Prince
New York City, 212 675 7772
Just a few years ago, the young Daniel Hesidence attracted attention with a suite of loosely-worked paintings depicting mutilated, severed heads. It has been quick work for this notoriously prolific artist to move through a number of figurative stages, which he has addressed with a steadily increasing brushiness, and into the idiom of gestural abstraction. Now on view at the recently relocated Feature is the artist’s fourth solo with the gallery, comprising 17 paintings in a wide range of sizes, all oil on canvas, all dated 2007, all untitled. Though it appears that Hesidence subsumes nearly all recognizable imagery in slap-happy application of paint, the spectre of vestigial figuration lurks. In fact, these paintings are deeply conservative in their embrace of recessional, narrative space; theatrical arrangement of component parts; “quirky” but assiduously balanced palette; and calibrated contrast of mark-making scale.
Hesidence favors bouncy, candy colors which he combines with moodier hues such as a rich sepia and a deep maroonish brown which appears often. The artist softens his vigorous brushwork using a blending brush, a staple of the realist painter’s tool kit, relying too heavily on an admixture of white to sidestep the chromatic muddiness that would otherwise ensue. In places this unexpected technique imparts a smeary appearance, while elsewhere the forms are so hairy-looking you want to take a big comb to them.
One of two eight-by-six-foot canvases features what looks something like an enormous tobacco-brown toupée streaked with strawberry pink, raspberry purple and a swath of icy blue, and tousled by a sudden squall. The artist’s effort to complicate that chestnut of doctrinaire abstraction, the figure/ground relationship, by giving the complex contours of the shape a slight, whiteish aura only reinforces that dichotomy.
The other eight-footer is brooding, nearly symmetrical and slightly macabre, with associations of meat and membrane. A wide putty knife gouge running up the painting’s spinal column reveals underlying yellows and blues; arcing swipes of a nearly dry brush just barely suggest a splayed rib cage. Ruddy and bloody (albeit streaked as well with viridian green), the canvas brings to mind canonical carcasses of beef by Bacon and Soutine. Two even larger works, eleven feet across, fare less well, their undulating garboil lacking memorable shaping or pictorial tension. Into them, Hesidence introduces hairline brushstrokes and crisp shards of pale hues in an attempt to throw a spanner in the works, but those flourishes only seem extraneous.
The small works are generally more convincing than the large ones, because on a more intimate scale the showy technique is integral and less a caricature of painterliness. All of these, though, proceed from a centralized, upright ovoid massing that alludes to head, egg or seed. A bit over three feet high, the most head-like painting evokes the lightbulb-shaped visage at the center of Munch’s Scream. Roughed out in ragged red, white and blue partially mixed on the painting’s surface to yield a choppy purple, it floats ghost-like before a lugubrious greenish ground. In another small canvas, the “head,” a flurry of strokes in those components of purple, is dug out from underneath a top coat of dulled turquoise. Particularly in the smaller works, the interplay of concealment and excavation constitutes the central dynamic of their fabrication.
Mr. Hesidence goes to great trouble to make his canvases appear indifferently executed. One that looks genuinely dashed off pits grapey purple palette knife scrapings, casual as scuff marks, against a bulbous silver shape in soft-focus spray paint. (It even hangs on the wall in an odd spot, as if included as an afterthought.) Its blunt facture suggests an interest in Art Informel.
Like Christopher Wool, another stylish painter, Hesidence is seeing how far he can go with a rudimentary technical tool. Like Wool’s scrubbed washes of black enamel, the younger painter’s blurry albino blending becomes a veil, though what is veiled in Hesidence’s paintings might have once carried iconographic meaning. And as again like Wool, what is lovely and idiosyncratic in his approach is in danger of becoming formulaic.
As to the exhibition’s title, one searches these turgid canvases in vain for clues to their association with the year 1779 and finds no allusions to Thomas Chippendale’s death, for example, or to the court-martial of Benedict Arnold. The “pedestrians” reference is similarly recondite. In the past the artist has expressed his opinion of the uselessness of words to deal with his art, and the appellation he attaches to this intelligent and engaging but ultimately unsatisfying update of his impressive studio output seems bent on obfuscation rather than illumination.