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Simple, but complex and sophisticated

Tina Hutchings Exhibition

Windjammer II Gallery through February 15

The Tina Hutchings exhibition at Windjammer II Gallery, brings to mind a number of modernist painters and architects nevertheless, there is nothing in the show that is obviously derivative.

Still, no artist arrives at a mature style without the help and influences of past or even contemporary artists.

The trick is to be able to assimilate these influences and transform them into one’s own unique artistic personality.

Ms Hutchings has been able to do exactly that; convert certain aspects of modernism into her own singular artistic voice.

Still, some of the names that crossed my mind, as I walked the gallery walls were, Cy Twombly, Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly, Max Bill, Victor Pasmore or Alvar Aalto.

Indeed, one painting in the show, is entitled ‘Alver Aalto’.

The exhibit, is entitled ‘Deciding’. It’s apt in that there are hints of the mental processes employed in making her creations.

In the best possible sense, her works seem tentative, as if she had felt her way into the final decisions used in creating each piece, more or less, by trial and error.

This process has been incorporated into her paintings as an essential aspect of the work. Additionally, her approach to art making combines both the constructive, as well as the expressive.

By constructive, I mean those aspects that are geometric and abstract.

Constructivism, along with related developments, had its start in Russia, early in the 20th century; it has also been an essential aspect of other more recent art developments, such as minimalism or even optical art.

The expressive aspects of Tina’s work also have their roots in early modernism.

Indeed, it was another Russian, Wassily Kandinsky, who is credited with creating the first non-objective painting. By 1919, his work was being referred to as “abstract expressionism”.

That term is more commonly used these days in reference to the New York Abstract Expressionist School of the 1940s and 50s.

In Ms Hutchings’ case, her use of free-flowing, expressive lines is more closely related to New York developments, but more particularly, is lodged in the work of such artists as Cy Twombly, who I know is an artist she admires, or possibly even the drips of Jackson Pollock.

Still, her use of expressive lines is highly tempered and restrained. When she does use them, they act as a foil to the rigidity of the geometric.

In an earlier review of her 2010 Masterworks Museum exhibition, I wrote that her show could be divided into works that are intuitive, against those that are more planned.

These concepts are not unrelated to the differences between the constructive and the expressive but, as I see it, the difference with this current exhibition is that the two have been combined so that both are seen as coexisting within particular works.

Because Ms Hutchings’ paintings emphasise compositional simplicity, some may conclude that there is something not quite kosher about what she is doing.

I have encountered this kind of reaction enough to know that a stock response often is: “My two-year-old could do this.”

Although no two-year-old could possibly do these kind of paintings, those individuals who react in this manner feel that their intelligence is being insulted.

They fail to realise that there has been, within the last century, a decided shift away from virtuoso aesthetics and realism.

Modernism and its counterpart, postmodernism, is by no means a unified aesthetic.

Indeed, the modern period, including modernist art, is noted for revolutionary changes in world views.

The diversity of artistic styles in 20th century art is merely reflecting these many and varied viewpoints.

One aspect of modernism, however, was the need to purify art and rid it of the ornamentation and clutter that was typical of 19th century art and architecture.

Out of this tendency, eventually, there developed an aesthetic philosophy that had, among other concepts, the saying that “less is more”.

An example of the application of this kind of thinking is seen in modern architecture, with its emphasis on unornamented walls and clean, simple lines and shapes.

Other emphases from this period, was that of honest use of materials and form-following function.

Ms Hutchings’ art is a postmodern response to this aesthetic. I say postmodern, for the wit and humour that is a part of her art is characteristic of one facet of Postmodernism.

Another important consideration in Ms Hutchings’ work is the significance of titles.

Each painting contains an allusion to someone or something an artist or possibly a nautical chart, a game or an experience and these are manifested in her titles.

The simplicity of the design is therefore useful as a device on which to hang the underlying concept.

Although Ms Hutchings’ art is, on first viewing, simple in appearance, it is never simplistic. On the contrary, it is complex and sophisticated. This is an art that is thoughtful, informed and intelligent.

The first two paintings in the show, #1 (Plan) and #2 (Reflecting Pool), are stylistically related.

In both paintings it seems that we are positioned above an abstracted scene that can be construed to be a flower garden or, as suggested, a reflecting pool.

Within the central area, there are a couple rows of attached red blobs that are applied with swirls, so that they vaguely resemble blooms of some kind, or possibly something being reflected.

Along the edge of this central area are wall-like appendages that are made up of flat, white sticks, which may originally have been intended for kites.

Both these paintings remind me of depictions I have seen of ancient Egyptian gardens.

They too were shown as if seen from above. Typically, Egyptian gardens had a central pool, surrounded by vegetation, but when depicted in wall paintings, they were shown as being quite flat, including the trees and other vegetation, which were shown as flopped over and lying on the ground.

As I understand it, #5 (Book Cover) is a response to a certain book that has a large white circle on the cover.

The painting has, as its book cover, a piece of plywood that is hinged to the frame and can be opened and closed, as with a book.

The plywood has been left unpainted except for two white circles, one on the outside, the other inside. The painting that lies underneath the cover is an instance where the artist has used expressive brushwork in greys and whites.

Directly above #5 is a painting of similar size, called Alver Aalto. The design similarities of these two works are notable, in that they both use as background, painterly brushwork in grey and white.

In ‘Alver Aalto’ a disk of thin unfinished plywood has been attached to the background, near the right-hand edge, and that is all.

But why Alver Aalto? Aalto was a Finnish architect and designer who is noted for his use of bent, laminated woods, as well as plywood.

The plywood disk in #4, recalls Aalto’s use of circular forms in his wooden furniture, for example the round wooden wheel on his well-known serving trolley.

At times, Ms Hutchings plays with our minds, as with #7, entitled, ‘9 Square’. Interestingly this again is a painting that makes use of expressive brushwork, but is conjoined to a more geometric area, made up of six squares.

The other three squares are, at best, implied from within the more expressive area. Notice though, that in the title, square is singular.

This is an instance where the artist, who is also an architect, has applied aspects from her architectural practice, to her paintings.

Just one example of a nine square grid in architecture: a typical Byzantine church.

The central dome is over the centre square, with smaller domes over the corner squares and possibly a dome over the entrance square. The church footprint is also a square, within which are the smaller nine squares.

Two paintings, ‘Dotted Line’ and ‘Dashed Line’, make use of a horizontal string stretched across the middle of each work. In the first, #8, the quite ordinary string, by its texture may suggest a broken or dotted line.

Since the string is stretched a smidge in front of the plain background, it also casts a shadow and if it is illuminated by more than one light, there will be multiple shadows. At Windjammer II, there is only one shadow, however.

The other string piece, #9 ‘Dashed Line’ is similar to its twin, #8. However the string in this piece has been divided by colouring the line in selected areas. Again, the string casts shadows.

I have long been fascinated by cast shadows, especially in situations where there are multiple lights, as in a gallery that has track lighting.

Not only will there be multiple shadows, but often the shadows will, quite unintentionally, be seen as a tonal gradient. It is of interest that Ms Hutchings is creating with shadows and I wonder where she will possibly take that.

Painting #15 recalls the board game Monopoly. The painting’s title ‘Avance to Go’, further strengthens that sense.

This piece reminds me of a series of paintings by the Swiss artist, architect and educator, Max Bill, however, I am certain that is coincidental, for when I first spoke to Tina about him, Max Bill was, at that time, unknown to her.

One essential difference with her painting, is the adherence to the painting, of certain instruction cards from Monopoly.

Since she has scumbled these cards with the various yellows found throughout this monochromatic work, you have to get close-up to actually read the cards.

Still, the addition of humour humanises the piece and adds to its appeal.

Directly underneath ‘Advance to Go’, is ‘Beauty Queen’.

We find in this work the addition of a particular monopoly card that says you have won second prize in a beauty contest and, like its neighbour, you have to search for it.

The artist said that initially, she found the work too severe and by adding this monopoly card, she was adding wit to the mix.

‘High Tide’ is far and away the largest painting in the show. It is divided into a dark blue upper half, while the lower is white. Horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines are drawn across the painting, possibly with conte crayon, in ways that recall the markings on nautical charts.

Although Ms Hutchings’ lines in no way resemble those of Cy Twombly, these chalklike lines, to that extent, have something about them that reminded me of Twombly, who is noted for chalk scribbles on blackboards.

Perhaps even more so, however, the lines in ‘High Tide’ are reminiscent of certain drawings by Sol LeWitt.

Hanging one above another are four small, square paintings called, ‘Co-ordinates #1, #2, #3 and #4’.

These caught the eye of the Bermuda National Gallery leadership and thus, on opening night, they were purchased by BNG patrons. They will now become part of the BNG permanent collection.

These four paintings have some commonality with ‘High Tide’, particularly in the use of criss-crossed lines, again suggesting nautical charts.

These miniatures are divided into a colour section, plus a white area. The colour sections hug the right side of the design, each being a particular colour, such as orange, brown, and two different blues. These colours are then repeated in the criss-crossed ink lines in the white area.

I noticed on my last visit to this exhibition that there are already 13 red dots beside certain paintings, indicating they been have sold.

Obviously, there is here in Bermuda, an audience that appreciates intelligent, sophisticated art. If you are this type of person, then this is a show you need to see.

Artist Christina Hutchings ( Photo by Glenn Tucker )

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Published February 08, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 08, 2012 at 8:56 am)

Simple, but complex and sophisticated

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