By JONATHAN GOODMAN September, 2022
David Hanes, a Canadian-American painter now working in Berlin, has a very good show on exhibit in Catskill, in upstate New York. His slightly rough renditions, often indicative of flowers, can be linked to expressionist abstraction in their handling of paint. But the implications of his art go back further than that—to a time when a modernist painter such as Arthur Dove was active, in the early part of the 20th century. Dove nicely merged abstraction with the close studies of outdoor imagery. Although his work is not closely comparable to Dove’s, Hanes thinks similarly. Devoted to a colorful, optimistic vision of nature, but at the same time pushing what he sees toward abstraction, Hanes merges the two ways of seeing.
Because Hanes treats nature lyrically, his compositions stand out as expressive treatments of the visible world. His art celebrates flowers, but he doesn't provide us with detailed explorations of natural form; instead, the overall impression of these works is more generalized, being oriented toward a sweeping description. The overall arrangement of the composition is more important than the particulars. This means that the works address painterly issues, deemed at least as important as the development of the imagery’s particulars. Collectively, then, these paintings become a commentary on modernism, even as they serve as renditions of flowers and nature in an ornamental sense. Thus, the work quietly but convincingly convinces Hane’s audience of the paintings’ truth to nature. And it also becomes a historically aware presentation of painting.
The painting Escaping (2022) serves as a good introduction to Hanes’s painting style. Green, leaf-like passages come close to forming a web as they lead the eye across a yellow background. These passages are punctuated by irregular spots of color, merging yellow and gold. At the bottom of the painting, viewers find thin horizontals of dark brown—most likely the ground from which the profusion of flower imagery emanates. But it must be said that the visual aspect of this painting is also abstract. Its components do not easily connect with another, breaking down into an idiom of fragmentation.
The lack of conventional cohesiveness, something I think Hanes has deliberately chosen, moves the imagery away from something recognizable toward something more non-objective. Perhaps the tacit consolidation of what we understand and what eludes easy comprehension is key to the success of Hanes’s work. In another painting, called Proof (2022), the top of the composition and a portion of the right edge are lined with spiky red forms. The center of the painting, a luminous yellow, is overtaken by the same green forms, partially abstract and partially of nature, that we saw in the first painting. They animate the work, whose bottom part presents a series of dark brown, cylindrical rods that extend across the painting and move upward a bit on either side.
Like many abstract works, this is a painting whose energies are self-contained. They are not hard to take in, but neither are they fully accessible to a quick understanding; this imagistic complexity is likely the result of Hanes’s combination of genres, skillfully merged. In general, Hanes’s mysteries are, strangely enough, openly presented. His works may describe nature, but the general impression of the art does not always yield easily to interpretation. Maybe this happens with Hanes when the artist paints clearly figurative demonstrations of flowers. There is an directed joy to what he does, echoing from painting to painting. In a time such as ours, when matters of inner life seem forgotten, Hanes’s art is a pleasure to experience. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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