“Playing with very small ideas…” has led to some major incarnations. It is rare that I come across someone as snarky as moi, but low and behold, we have a contender! The Johnson Center on the campus of Malone College has several gallery spaces (currently showing two additional shows just as wonderful as the one I am going to review here) with one being a bit harder to find than the two I am used to visiting. Upstairs and to the right down the hallway of classrooms, one will find 53 paintings which are just downright funny. R.M Huggett is new (at least to me) on the local art scene and I predict will be a frequent and consistent exhibitor locally and eventually beyond.
His work may not appeal to some and will be easily dismissed by others, but don’t be fooled by what appears to be simple. A good actor makes the craft seem natural. A good dancer makes their movement seem effortless. A good artist displays both qualities in their work, both natural and effortless. Behind the final product however often lies many hours of labor, experimentation and conceptualization. Huggett’s smooth surfaced canvases are actually layer upon layer of a carefully applied blend of acrylic silk screen ink and white gesso, a combination which produces a semi transparent paint requiring 7 or more layers in order to achieve a flat print-like surface. So too are his images far deeper than what a quick glance will reveal. The following anecdote will illustrate my point.
My son and I were enjoying the show, dodging kids at a day camp and avoiding the cleaning crew. Two of the custodians stopped in front of the piece “The Rising Cost of Civilization” which seems to depict the hieroglyphic wall of some Egyptian tomb. Man number one says “I guess you have to know Sanskrit to understand this one.” Man number two, “yeah, not really funny, I don’t get it.” They sweep on down the hall, literally, as my son and I did the eye roll thing. First of all, hieroglyphics and Sanskrit are two different cultures and languages, and also, embedded in the “hieroglyphs” are a barber pole, a parking meter or birdhouse, a smilie face, and other such imagery made to look like symbols. Do you get the connection between the title and the imagery? If so, then you understand my work as well which is why I like his work immensely. It makes people think, if they care to do so, and gives them an intellectual reward for making the connections. If not, then one just gets a good giggle and moves on.
What are also deceptively simple are his colors. Looking down the hall, a typical viewer will see solid, flat shades of green, pink, blue, yellow, white and black for example, but take some time to compare one painting to another and the subtle changes between them begin to stand out. I stopped counting at 15 different tonalities which surprised even me. Then I went back and studied his bones, meaning the compositions, the use of positive and negative spaces, the edges of his complex black outlines, scale of elements and so forth, and one will discover once again what looks easy is really quite sophisticated.
Okay, so much for the serious analysis stuff. Let’s get into the humor mobile. First clue that Mr. H is a snarky one lies in his exhibition text. The show opened on May 10th (and nobody told me?) and closes “whenever I’m asked to take everything home.” Good answer. The posted statement explains “that some images are created specifically to support an idea that I have for a title that makes me laugh.” Halleluiah brother! Finally somebody that does not take his artistic purpose so seriously that it gets bogged down in labored messages that overshadow craftsmanship. High five RMH.
On the subject of titles, everyone knows by now that I detest the concept of something being “untitled” for a variety of reasons. Hold the nasty email comments, I won’t respond anyway. I have no problem with a title being long, but I do with show entries where one is given about ¾ of an inch to write it. Some of us are a bit wordy, get over it. For your reading pleasure, I have included some of my favorite titles from his exhibition and a brief explanation of the art to which it belongs, think of it as dyslexic descriptions.
“High ceilings, watertight foundation and a massive master bedroom are included for just under $300,000” – Toad on a lily pad which sells for $250.
“Self forgery of another painting that is remarkably similar to this painting” – guy painting
“Inside the fitting room at Waldo’s Sock Monkey Emporium Discounted Fireworks warehouse”’ – one
confused creature (the image, not the artist….)
“Oh Tammy! I just love what you’ve done to your new trailer” – light bulbs
“Which came first depends upon how you hang the paintings” – a chicken and an egg
And so it goes. Be sure to add your name to his raffle jar for one of two images he is …ummm…raffling off. Also, free prints (yes, you read that right) are available one to a customer while supplies last, on a pedestal near his guestbook (which I forgot to sign so this blog will have to do). Do sign his guestbook if you go because we artists like to know that somebody actually looked at our stuff, just don’t take the pen.
The building is open 9 – 5 Monday through Friday during the summer and the work will be up until it is not up anymore. Be sure to also see the show “Landscape Revisited” by Scott Zaher in the Fountain Gallery (I like his stuff a lot too and he has piece in the NC May Show.) and also the two person show “Visual Correspondence” by Rebecca Cross and Claire Murray Adams in the McFadden gallery hallway which is also in need of spending some time to really appreciate their intricate creations. I shall be back.
**Image used is totally done so without the artist’s permission. No title included so I made one up….”Using his right arm as a roasting stick was a smoking hot idea!”