In art, as in everything else, you can’t always predict how things are going to turn out.
In the case of artist James Hoff, that’s a good thing.
Now on view at the Contemporary Arts Center, Hoff’s “virus paintings” and accompanying sound installation are a testament to the artistic value of chance and entropy.
According to the CAC, the title of the exhibition “B=R=I=C=K=I=N=G” refers to what happens when the operating system of a computer or smartphone is infected with a virus or malware, “which renders it useless, at least, for its originally intended purposes.”
For Hoff, however, that kind of technological intervention becomes a key source of the random visual elements in his work, though in his case the process is intentional rather than unwelcome or accidental.
To create his paintings, Hoff deliberately corrupts digital files before transferring them back to an aluminum support. (The “broken” nature of the pieces is echoed in the CAC installation itself, where chunks of the wall behind the paintings have been removed to expose the studs underneath.)
The results are paradoxical. Although Hoff’s work reflects conceptual issues concerning digital reproduction, many of his paintings actually end up resembling enlarged fragments of abstract canvases by the likes of Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning. The digital “glitches” caused by the viruses resemble paint spread broadly across a surface with a brush or, in the case of “Skywiper No. 65” (2015), dripping from the top of the canvas. It makes you consider that the division between analog and digital media may not be as wide as it’s often made out to be.
By contrast, Jacqueline Humphries’ paintings, which are also the subject of a major exhibition at the CAC this month, embody more of a sense of order and precision — at least at first look.
Enormous in scale, Humphries’ “silver” canvases on the CAC’s first floor — made from metallic pigment mixed with aluminum powder — incorporate bold graphic motifs like dots and chat emoticons superimposed on faintly discernible elements culled from films and videos, creating works that are simultaneously abstract and representational. And the artist’s hand is evident in the thickly rendered but subtle paint drips, scribbles and gouges that punctuate such works as “O” (2015).
But it’s Humphries’ shimmering black light paintings on the second floor that really steal the show. However unflattering it might be for the viewer, the illumination brings out the various depths and layers hidden in the two dimensional canvases, making them appear almost holographic.
Humphries herself describes the work in terms of a very different medium: “Having a heightened sense of the painting changing in front of your eyes gives it an almost cinematic quality — light moves across the surface and makes new images before your eyes,” she said in a statement accompanying the exhibition.
According to the wall labels at the CAC, the work also bears an affinity to everything from graffiti to custom car culture and bioluminescent jellyfish (not to mention the psychedelic dorm posters viewers of a certain age may remember fondly) — elements that create an “associative chain” that Humphries intends her work to invoke, which place it in a distinct position from traditional abstract painting.
Like the best of Humphries’ paintings, the black light pieces are densely layered and fiercely intelligent works. The more you look at them, the more you see.
John d’Addario writes about art. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.