CHROMATIC HEATHER HUTCHISON DION JOHNSON MICHAEL REAFSNYDER RICHARD ROTH ERIC ZAMMITT Bentley Gallery Exhibition April 9th - June 26th 2021
BENTLEY GALLERY | 215 East Grant Street Phoenix, AZ 85004 | 480-946-6060 | www.bentleygallery.com
TRUE COLORS By David Pagel
The paintings by the five artists in this exhibition do not look like one another. But they do something very similar: reveal how comfortable each of us is with our inability to understand what’s going on right before our eyes. Making a virtue of confusion, the abstract paintings by Heather Hutchison, Dion Johnson, Michael Reafsnyder, Richard Roth, and Eric Zammitt not only compel us to confront the limits of our comprehension, they also make those limits visible to others. And that’s where the five artists’ often nakedly beautiful works get really interesting: They lay bare—and make public—intimacies many viewers prefer to keep hidden, particularly viewers whose sense of self is predicated on pretending —to themselves and others—that they are in control, that they know what’s going on, and that they don’t have to prove anything to anyone because they know what they like and they like art that minds its own business and leaves them well enough alone—so that they might enjoy it on their own terms. That’s the opposite of what the works by Hutchison, Johnson, Reafsnyder, Roth, and Zammitt do. Rather than minding their own business, the subtly interactive objects by these five artists get us to reveal what’s going on inside of us. As we respond to their works, we show our true colors, either slowing down, paying attention, and keeping our egos from getting in the way of our perceptions; or pausing briefly and moving on, treating their works as if they’re nothing more than pretty pictures or pleasant decorations, whose attractions are entirely a matter of taste: to be embraced or rejected just because we like them, or not. When you get right down to it, these two reactions are the only options these works give viewers. Dividing us into two groups, the works by these five artists reveal that abstract painting has social consequences, and that it has a lot more to do with who we are as people—in other words, our identities—than is often assumed, even by people who should know better.
All of these works start by stopping us in our tracks. That happens when you see something worth looking at: an object or occurrence that is out of the ordinary, that arrests your attention, piques your curiosity, and makes you want to know more—while experiencing more and more. Hutchison does this by making you wonder just what it is that you’re looking at: a painting? a sculpture? a container? a miniature, wall-mounted installation? a shadow box from which the figures have vanished? some kind of compartment that holds more space than its physical dimensions dictate? a customized light fixture aglow with mysteriousness? a modestly scaled stage for a drama with no beginning, middle, or end? a slow-motion performance animated by ambient light? a window onto infinity? Before you can answer any of these questions, you know that you want to spend more time with her ingeniously simple structures. Hutchison’s hand-crafted light-traps draw you—and your imagination— into their elusive worlds by eliciting memories of great paintings you’ve seen in the past and actual landscapes you’ve visited in the flesh while never letting you forget where you are, right here and right now—and then, gradually, almost imperceptibly, intensifying the singularity, i.e., the beauty, of the moment. Over and over again. There’s an all-that-andmore quality to Hutchison’s works, which sharpen perceptions while never letting you rest with the feeling that you’ve finally put your finger on what her works are, much less know how they function, or can say what they might mean. Similarly, Johnson throws a monkey wrench into business as usual by making you marvel at what he has done with color, line, and shape: create abstract racetracks for your eyeballs, which are called upon to move in ways they’re not used to—performing quasi-acrobatic feats you never dreamed of. Even though you know, from the get-go, that you’re looking at a painting—a traditionally stretched, primed, and painted rectangle of canvas—what happens within those parameters is unexpected. And thrilling. The atmospheric elusiveness
of air-brushed surfaces meets the cut-and-paste fragmentation of collage by way of the compositional tautness of hard-edged abstraction. The planes and spaces Johnson has deftly engineered make your eyes dart and drift, zip and float, race and relax, shifting speed and direction so dramatically that the experience can be vertiginous—until you begin to feel the tempo and fall into the rhythms Johnson has orchestrated. That takes a little time. And that’s when the magic happens. Johnson’s fluid paintings transform visual dissonance—clashing colors, razor-sharp lines, whiplash spatial shifts—into gracefulness: a kind of compositional order that is dynamic and fluid, its logical contradictions and emotional incompatibilities subsumed into experiences of potentially endless expansiveness. Like Johnson, Reafsnyder cleaves to established painterly conventions. Working on tautly stretched rectangles of primed canvas, in a manner that harks back to the glory days of Abstract Expressionism, Reafsnyder makes messy gestural paintings that turn the expectations we bring to that type of painting inside out. To see one of his works is to discover, slowly and surely, that the assumptions that have grown up around gestural expressionism—particularly in terms of the artist’s biography and his subconscious—are both limiting and wrong-headed. Rather than presuming that a painter’s job is to dive deeply into his subterranean sentiments and inchoate memories, Reafsnyder starts each painting with the goal of getting out of himself, getting beyond himself, leaving his ego and its supporting cast behind so that he might discover something new, something different, something beyond anything he has experienced. So, instead of treating painting as a form of tormented self-scrutiny, he treats it as play: a soul-saving respite from the trials and tribulations of the self. Fun, not suffering, is the goal. Joy is the point of it all. Love figures into the mix. And free-wheeling freedom is the byproduct, which Reafsnyder shares with viewers by inviting us into works that we can’t help but get lost in—only to discover experiences that we may not have known since we were kids: carefree abandon, imaginative transport, true open-mindedness, and the power of real innocence.
Playfulness—and the realities it generates—also animate Roth’s boxy paintings. Like Hutchison’s, his crisply delineated compositions make you wonder what you’re looking at: a painting? five separate paintings, each facing a different direction? a single surface wrapped around an invisible armature? the lovechild of a painting by Mondrian and a set of Lego building blocks? a smartly configured diagram that has been streamlined and stylized and inflated, so that it has become a three-dimensional chunk of impossible-toname ambiguity? a wall-mounted sculpture? part of the architecture? a solid volume whose exterior shapes seem to go all the way through, in a quasi-geological fashion, forming single-colored bands, bars, and zig-zags? an impenetrable mystery whose surface is adorned with geometric patterns that dance off on their own, free from the restrictions of three-dimensional reality and picking up speed when they cut around the corners of the objects they animate? Like Johnson’s canvases, Roth’s seriously whimsical works form wholes that are greater than the sum of their parts. Their synergies generate viewer participation: Your body has to move—left and right, up and down, back and forth—to even begin to see what’s in front of you. And your mind has to move a lot more fluidly and flexibly and multi-directionally if you’re going to come to terms with the confounding complexity of Roth’s deviously generous works. Even before Zammitt’s works make you wonder what they might be—paintings? sculptures? mutant fusions of the two?—they make you wonder if your eyes are working. From across the room, it seems as if his meticulously assembled constellations of hovering colors, which are often arranged in parallel bands or bars, should come into focus. But they won’t. Even if you blink or shake your head, hoping to clear your vision. As Zammitt’s works maintain their mirage-like elusiveness, you get a glimpse of what life might be like if you couldn’t see clearly and your surroundings were the three-dimensional version of an out-offocus photograph: present, but indistinct, its general contours discernible but its myriad details gone. That unsettling, even frightening feeling dissolves when you move up close to
any one of Zammitt’s works and discover that it is made up of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of tiny sections of tinted plastic, which he has stacked, laminated, and sawn— sometimes repeating the process several times—to create compositions of unparalleled nuance and mind-blowing beauty. Each bit of plastic is a tiny slice of geometric perfection: crisp, clean, and uniform. Each is also a tiny part of a much larger whole, where it functions like a three-dimensional pixel of a composition whose colors mix in your eye. Using industrial materials and tools and techniques to do what Impressionist painters did with individual brushstrokes, Zammitt fabricates space-age mosaics whose translucency reflects and refracts light to generate experiences of infinite subtlety and unforgettable intensity. None of the experiences or insights the works by these five artists generate could happen if you didn’t have the patience to give them a little time and a bit of honest, open-minded attentiveness. Nor would any of these experiences or insights have unfolded if you were not comfortable with not knowing what’s going on the instant you lay eyes on a work of art. That’s another way of saying that the works by Hutchison, Johnson, Reafsnyder, Roth, and Zammitt are not made for know-it-alls. And that’s another way of saying that being confused or uncertain or perplexed or befuddled—even frustrated—by their works puts you in the best position to begin to truly understand them. That’s not a bad place to be.
David Pagel is an art critic who writes regularly for the Los Angeles Times. He is a professor of art theory and history at Claremont Graduate University and an adjunct curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, NY.
Heather Hutchison, born in Corvallis, Oregon, where her father, a caricaturist and cartoonist, drew sorority and fraternity members at the local university. She was raised moving between coastal Oregon, Laguna Beach, Marin County, and the mile high desert along the southern border in Bisbee, Arizona. Her self-directed studies as an artist brought her from the San Francisco Bay Area to New York City in 1986. She currently works and resides in upstate New York. Hutchison is self taught, and has developed and innovated methods and mediums including hand-building and bending Plexiglas forms to facilitate her artistic process. Notably Hutchison's works incorporate ambient light as a primary material. She shares similar concerns with the Light and Space artists and has spent decades observing and contemplating nature. Hutchison's works capture the essence of the phenomena of light in natural environments. Each piece is a direct inquiry into the perceptual experience of color, light, and shadow particular to a time of day and place. Hutchison emphasizes the horizontal world that surrounds us and finds inspiration in the ever-present rhythms and syncopations of nature. Hutchison has been included in numerous museum exhibitions including the Brooklyn Museum; Montclair Art Museum; the Smithsonian; the Knoxville Museum of Art as well as being included in the 44th Biennial Exhibition of American Painting at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC. She has exhibited in dozens of solo exhibitions over three decades. Several public collections hold her work including the Brooklyn Museum, the Hammer Museum, and the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Hutchison has received grants from the Gottlieb Foundation, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Anonymous Was A Woman, and NYFA.
Heather Hutchison Watershed mixed media, reclaimed Plexiglas, birch plywood box 11 x 8 x 3.5 inches 2020
Heather Hutchison Opening mixed media, reclaimed Plexiglas, birch plywood box 8 x 11 x 3.5 inches 2020
Heather Hutchison Passage mixed media, reclaimed Plexiglas, birch plywood box 11 x 8 x 3.5 inches 2020
Heather Hutchison Occasionally mixed media, reclaimed Plexiglas, birch plywood box 8 x 11 x 3.5 inches 2020
Heather Hutchison Float mixed media, reclaimed Plexiglas, birch plywood box 16 x 11 x 3.5 inches 2021
Heather Hutchison Approaching mixed media, reclaimed Plexiglas, birch plywood box 32.75 x 33 x 3.75 inches 2021
Dion Johnson’s paintings combine and explore dynamic opposites: expansiveness and compression, surface and depth, and darkness and light. Gradient color fields are juxtaposed to and interwoven with planes of precise hard edge abstraction. These color fades are both intimate and vast – they may reflect internal moods with wandering thoughts and insightful realizations, or they may suggest vivid sunsets on Mercury or Mars with chemical skies and radiant perspectives. The hard edge shapes seem to reach up and stretch down; their elongated curves, interlocking contours, and bold colors allude to kinetic sensations and evolving environments. Johnson attended Yale Norfolk Summer School of Music and Art, received his BFA from The Ohio State University and MFA from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, CA. His work has been reviewed and featured in articles in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, ART News, Art Forum and others. His work is in public collections such as The Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; The Capital Group Companies, Los Angeles, CA: Creative Artists Agency, CA; Pizutti Collection Columbus, OH; Progressive Corporation and many more.
Dion Johnson Echo acrylic on canvas 48 x 58 x 1.5 inches 2019
Dion Johnson Aquarium acrylic on canvas 48 x 58 x 1.5 inches 2019
Dion Johnson Spice acrylic on canvas 36 x 32 x 1.5 inches 2019
Dion Johnson Wish acrylic on canvas (two canvases) 72 x 96 x 1.5 inches 2020
Dion Johnson Peridot acrylic on canvas 32 x 36 x 1.5 inches 2020
Dion Johnson Acrobat acrylic on canvas 72 x 48 x 1.5 inches 2020
Dion Johnson Stratosphere acrylic on canvas 48 x 40 x 1.5 inches 2020
Michael Reafsnyder’s painterly abstractions convey a sense of delirious happiness. Although they look like the product of spontaneous gestural painting, Reafsnyder’s works are in fact carefully crafted to convey their sense of frenetic energy, each brushstroke, thick swath of acrylic, or vibrant color deftly deployed in the creation of an overall sense of manic exuberance. Falsely conjuring the Action Painting of Abstract Expressionism, Reafsnyder’s bright canvases are often more playfully sarcastic and confrontational than lyrical; he works a “smiley face” symbol into several of his otherwise abstract works. He has had numerous exhibitions nationally and internationally. His work may be found in the permanent collections of the Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH; Harvard University, Cambridge, MA; Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach, CA; Las Vegas Art Museum, Las Vegas, NV; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Portland Art Museum, Portland, OR; and Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, CA, among others. Reafsnyder received his Bachelor of Arts degree in studio art at Chapman University in Orange, CA in 1992 and his Master of Fine Arts degree at the Arts Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA in 1996. He lives and works in Southern California.
Michael Reafsnyder Underwater Squad acrylic on linen 55 x 72 x 1.5 inches 2017
Michael Reafsnyder Sweet Thing acrylic on linen 60.25 x 90.25 x 1.5 inches 2017
Michael Reafsnyder Under the Sea acrylic on linen 72 x 60 x 1.5 inches 2013
Michael Reafsnyder Honey Mist acrylic on linen 40 x 46 x 1.5 inches 2015
For Richard Roth, painting is like returning home. He painted for many years, then for a decade his practice became more conceptual - creating collections of contemporary material culture. He returned to painting in 2006 with a renewed interest, fueled by conceptualism and informed by postmodern attitudes. The new paintings claim object status enabling them to tap into the 3D polychrome universe - product and package design, nature, architecture, popular culture, custom cars, and fashion. He is now making his own ideal collection - inclusions to this set of objects are carefully controlled. Roth’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. In 1991 he was the recipient of a Visual Artists Fellowship in Painting from the National Endowment for the Arts. He received an MFA from the Tyler School of Art and a BFA from The Cooper Union. He is the co-editor of the book, Beauty is Nowhere: Ethical Issues in Art and Design and coauthor of two books – Color Basics and Design Basics 3D. His debut novel, NoLab, was published November 2019 by Owl Canyon Press. His work was included in the book, 100 Painters of Tomorrow, Thames and Hudson, 2014. Roth was the Director of Solvent Space in Richmond, Virginia, 2005 – 2009. He was a faculty member in the Painting and Printmaking Department at Virginia Commonwealth University from 1999 - 2015; he chaired the Department from 1999 – 2008. He has also taught at The Ohio State University, Columbus; The School of the Art Institute of Chicago; the Birmingham Institute of Art and Design – University of Central England; and the University of California, Berkeley. Roth presently lives and works in Camarillo, California.
Richard Roth Hell Gate 2 acrylic paint on birch plywood panel 12 x 8 x 4 inches 2020
Richard Roth Swizzle Stick Too acrylic paint on birch plywood panel 12 x 8 x 4 inches 2020
Richard Roth Krispy Kreme acrylic paint on birch plywood panel 12 x 8 x 4 inches 2020
Richard Roth Stacking Z's acrylic paint on birch plywood panel 12 x 8 x 4 inches 2020
Eric Zammitt’s work alludes to the dynamics and interplay of dual elements: matter and energy, spirit and body, emotion and intellect. It is simultaneously about our Gestalt experience of the drama and beauty of creation, our intellectual fascination with its parts, and how they come together to create a whole. One of the methods to express this interplay is by compounding complexes of patterned color into synergistic wholes. Color and pattern are primal to our history and survival. They touch parts of us that are archetypal, rooted in nature, and infinitely curious. Zammitt employs abstraction and minimalism as ways to bypass the literal and go directly to metaphor, emotion, and the ineffable. At the same time, like classical music, which integrates intellect and emotion, his works are based in structure, rhythm, and a form of logic. His works are a part of many private and public collections including the Harris Gallery, University of La Verne, CA; the Museum of Art and History, Eglash Collection, Lancaster, CA; and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA. Zammitt currently teaches at the Art Center for Design in Pasadena.
Eric Zammitt YELLOWPINK Long Concave laminated acrylic plastic 30.75 x 5.75 x 2.5 inches 2014
Eric Zammitt BLUEGREEN 3 AQUA Wedge laminated acrylic plastic 14.5 x 6.25 x 2.25 inches 2014-2021
Eric Zammitt PINKAQUA PINK Left laminated acrylic plastic 16.75 x 4.75 x 2.75 inches 2014
Eric Zammitt YELLOWMAGENTA Stripe Wedge laminated acrylic plastic 14.5 x 6.125 x 2.125 inches 2014-2021
Eric Zammitt BLUEGREEN 2 AQUA Concave laminated acrylic plastic 23.5 x 5.25 x 3 inches 2014
Eric Zammitt YELLOWPINK Wedge laminated acrylic plastic 14.5 x 5.5 x 2.25 inches 2014-2021
Eric Zammitt HAZE 5 laminated acrylic plastic 11 x 15.75 x 1 inches 2013
Eric Zammitt YELLOWMAGENTA Stripe Concave laminated acrylic plastic 31.75 x 6.25 x 3 inches 2014
Eric Zammitt B/W WHITE Left laminated acrylic plastic 23.25 x 9.5 x 2.75 inches 2014
Eric Zammitt HAZE 4 laminated acrylic plastic 14.25 x 15.75 x 1 inches 2013
Bentley Gallery presents CHROMATIC, a collection of stunning works by Heather Hutchison, Dion Johnson, Michael Reafsnyder, Richard Roth, and...