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Vast vocabulary of visual tropes

Ron Hinson shows at Art on Center

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If you see Ron Hinson’s show at Art on Center Gallery, you might think it is simply a rehash of the show he had there in August 2005. The painted constructions look identical to the ones he showed then. That is, if you don’t look too closely or don’t remember too clearly. He uses a lot of the same shapes and colors and, in general, mines the same vast vocabulary of visual tropes. Yet, if you were to compare work for work, you’d see great differences.

Likewise, Hinson’s acrylic illustrations of children’s stories in this show are in many ways stylistically identical in many ways to his illustrations from Aesop’s Fables in his earlier show. He uses a similar palette and similar lyrical lines over a modulated and stippled background, and he brings into play the same kind of humor.

Hinson’s painted constructions are made mostly from wood. Curvilinear and rectangular shapes radiate in all directions and extend a foot or more away from the wall. Most of the shapes are derived from nature, predominantly flowers and other plants, and human bodies abstracted beyond recognition. In some areas the surfaces are smooth, and in others they are as craggy as mountain ranges. His paint application has an expressive and loose appearance, but is more highly controlled than it looks.

His paintings pit visual contrasts against one another — contrasts between open and closed forms, between balance and imbalance, chaos and cohesion, unity and variety.

He pushes the edges of controlled chaos so far in some of his painted constructions as to be almost uncomfortable to the viewer. One large painting on the back wall of the gallery (they are all untitled) looked too chaotic to me until I backed up and viewed it from a distance. The top section consists of circular and angular forms in tones of red, yellow and orange, with one featherlike shape (like an old-fashioned writing quill) that goes flying off to the right. Large blue shapes below are separated by a bright yellow form. There are curlicues and fans and circles in a cacophony of colors that jangle the eye when seen up close. But when seen from a distance, every shape leads the eye to another shape.

A smaller construction on the right-hand wall is much more unified in form and color. It is one of my favorites. Organic forms reminiscent of human organs radiate in all directions from a central X-shape made from flat boards painted in broad stripes like a barrier at a railroad crossing. Painted in muted tones of gray and brown, with touches of red and yellow, this is the most cohesive piece in the show. Everything is densely compacted into the center.

The largest of his painted constructions dominates the left-hand wall. It is an open design with large spaces between shapes. It looks as if it is ready, at any moment, to fly off the wall in every direction. Hinson has thrown nearly all of his tricks into this one piece. In the center, holding everything together, is a large exclamation point of rough wood built up with molding paste or plaster, and it’s painted to look like a burnt club or perhaps remnants of some South Seas tribal totem.

His illustrations from children’s stories — “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Rapunzel” and others — are decorative paintings in acrylic on paper. All of them have densely textured backgrounds with subtle color variations and decorative borders. The figures are highly stylized, and the stories are illustrated with a minimum of images and sly humor. These are both lighthearted and lightweight compared to the high seriousness of Hinson’s painted constructions. But they are all visually enchanting.

This exhibition runs through March 24. Art on Center is located at 1604 Center St. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. or by appointment.


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