James Hyde at the Villa du Parc

Artists that have twenty or thirty years of art practice behind them almost invariably reveal and intensify their primary interests. In the case of James Hyde this would seem to both true and not true when one studies his output. There is progress but the progression seems to form an ellipse: the same calm confidence has existed in the work all along as he easily and often combines various artworks from past exhibitions with more recent ones. This takes place in Hyde's current exhibition, where he has included at least one sculptural type "Pandora", (enamel on cast aluminum hybrid) from 2003 that typically traverses the pictorial and the sculptural. What is newly revealed is that Hyde is more far-ranging investigator than many might have thought.

I first saw a James Hyde artwork at John Good Gallery in New York around 1990. I remember the object was made up of three dimly but deeply colored cement tablets placed upon on a low table-like armature. The entire assemblage could not have been more than three feet wide or high and exemplified Hyde's conceptual referent: structural extrapolation of the vacillating plane of the picture and his preferred modus operandi, pleasure-based amalgamations of various media.

I have never been able to find this piece I have described among his image inventory, but it exists powerfully in my mind. It may well be several melded together or transformed in memory. It cues one in to the mental drift accompanying an ideal state of looking, another constant theme in Hyde's work. Gerhard Richter mentions in an interview that Blinky Palermo thought that art was a whole other world. This Apollonian condition is applicable to Hyde also.

My first impression of this unidentifiable work was powerful because its form of address was through the concrete, steel and pigment it was made from. Hyde seemed to prefer not to engage the viewer with his personality, but like Donald Judd, to foreground an emotionality of materiality. Hyde distinguished himself from among the many artists of this burgeoning generation of the preceding decade for me for this reason. Hyde's succeeding exhibitions were predominately made up of constructed painting-objects: Frescoed gestures on chunks of Styrofoam, freed painterly passages of acrylic impasto gently layered inside large airless glass boxes, small paintings executed in colored tape, a bulletin board pinned to overflowing with a variety of painted, card-sized multi-colored rectangles, huge linen pillows upon which the surface held impressionistic scumbles of dusky hues.

Hyde has said that a painting for him is "always an incomplete whole". The frame always exists somewhere beyond the physical boundaries of the object, as the presence of the painting object in itself implies boundary. His work transmutes a pictorial state through a non-segregation of materials and categories, with gritty unctuousness, high color, and shiny transparency. His debt to Minimalism is in his unwillingness to depart from factuality: the viewer apprehends these slightly cooked artist materials and attitudes wedded to raw building materials and brusque contactor make-do flourishes as they remain identifiable as things-in-themselves.

It is often thought that he is an anti-painter, but what ties together these extroverted incursions into modernist conventions is, in fact, his painterliness. It is a quality most often associated with painters such as Dekooning or Twombly, artists identified with the sumptuousness of oil paint but in Hyde's work it becomes the most direct and sensuous way to form an inquiry. It is completely characteristic that Hyde would choose Tiepolo and Stuart Davis to use for photographic projects. As he continues using the photograph as painting support, we find some of Hyde's familiar tropes transported, such as colored rectangles attached to images of flowers or painterly passages obscuring partial images of the French mannerist Paul Brill, an older contemporary of Poussin.

In Villa du Parc we find him looking at landscape by way of Daguerre, the progenitor of the photograph, who was originally involved with painted panoramas and theatrical scrims depicting landscapes, and with the pictorial logic of landscape, one of the foundations of modernism, found in Impressionist painting. Most importantly, the use of the photographic image underlines Hyde's concerns that are closely aligned with the performative. Hyde works in favor of action, there is no inherent meaning in the works, they owe a degree of the participatory to Rauschenberg, but have a more guileless emotionalism, closer to an "I like this, I like" that state of mind—childlike but discerning at once. What he likes here is looking, and looking at nature. He has returned to the origins of photography in order to look at landscape, which includes man-made things existing with it, as continuity. If anything is being characterized here, it is that this is not art about culture. It is a kind of low modernism that uses tried and true modernist conventions not to make a point about modernism but to utilize modernism like the well-worn tool that it is. A new broom doesn't always sweep clean. Sometimes an old one does.

The film, "Bird at Red Hook" sums up much that is new in Hyde's work but paradoxically references canonical modernist themes, such as improvisation, in the Charlie Parker soundtrack, the monochrome, in the passages that break up the filmed sequences, cinema verité, in its proffering of a chunk of filmed reality, and nature, which, similarly to his stabile work, is interrupted with manmade things that resemble his past paintings and colors. The plywood additions to the architecture of the space are another subtle way taking on landscape, they are like an expanded tree.

The move into natural, conventionally pleasing images of flowers, trees and water is a reminder of Jorge Luis Borges affection for conventional metaphor, time is a river, life is a road, etc. Hyde's work is mature enough to utilize this direct, even sentimental imagery to make clear statements.

Joe Fyfe, 2010