Thursday, September 28, 2006

David Huffman at Patricia Sweetow (SF)

Alert: This exhibition is scheduled to close on 10/14/06.

At the Patricia Sweetow Gallery, there is a splendid show of new paintings by David Huffman. He continues to explore a style developed under the influences of Chinese and Japanese landscape painting, African-American history, Japanese anime, and other sources. A new source is the Katrina disaster in New Orleans. In this show, Huffman's work is richer than ever.

The representational elements in Huffman’s work are typically interpreted as social commentary. The imagery certainly represents Huffman’s experience as an African-American man who has an awareness of history and politics. Along with social awareness, there is an existential element—a sense of humans as small creatures who must operate in a vast, unstable, and dangerous world.

In the current paintings you can see black astronauts playing and working together, explosions, clouds of smoke, starbursts, slave cabins, surveillance towers, pyramids of basketballs, desolate terrain, outer space vastness, lynchings, dead trees, healthy trees, and other visual themes. The emotional tone doesn’t resolve one way or the other. This complexity keeps the work vibrant.

Huffman uses imagery but doesn’t let it box him in. His strategy is to signal awareness rather than send a message. The thematic material registers, but it also serves as a platform for launching into the formal issues of painting. A deep interest in visual qualities is everywhere apparent in the work. Composition, paint handling, and color palette are all superb. According to Huffman, some of the new work incorporates paint that glows under black light. (There are no black lights in the show.)

The paintings are mostly medium-large to large, and they need to be seen in person. The image at the top was adapted from the gallery website. Here are three other examples (my own photos, quite inadequate):

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