Straight Forward Curves
by Mokha Laget
December 2004/January 2005
The fluxional nature of social developments in the twenty-first century is reason enough to justify continued philosophical inquiries into the Apollonian-Dionysian dichotomy. On the one hand, a disciplined, ordered, and moderate approach prevails, on the other, unrestrained immoderation is exalted. Both serve their purpose. For artists this generally translated into the old art school polemic on the Classical/Romantic type of work..
Painter Howard Hersh is not only at ease with these issues, he makes a point of bringing the two together as if seeking some avenue of controlled reconciliation. It’s an effective symbiosis, although Hersh falters at times by allowing decorative elements to overtake the surface dialogue. In the larger picture, the artist stays true to his stated exploration of man’s relationship to both architecture and nature. In this new series, he introduces arched canvases among multiple right-angled frames. The paintings punctuate the gallery walls like a mantra, each work blending a signature leaf and tendril motif dancing across geometric panels. The running thread of these works, the tendrils act as a type of personal graffiti weaving through patches of color between montyped leaf forms. In fact, the line never ends; its serpentine flow exits the margins of the frame, only to reappear in the next, an endless sentence interrupted by white space in another dimension. The result is a serial glimpse into the artist’s universe through painted snapshots. Both the strict abstraction and the animated plant-like configurations play into Hersh’s operative theme of transformation. His multilayered approach unfolds the theme of metamorphosis by offering what he calls “a simultaneous view of past, present and future,” where psychological barriers of time are nonexistent. Deeply stratified, the imagery has melted into the canvas’ structural foundation as if it had alighted and sunk into its earth-tone palette of ochre and oxide, glowing within the golden beeswax of encaustic pours. Some areas have cooled in oozing puddles, leaving open gaps of under-painted surfaces, others smoothly follow the geometric delineations in raised parcels like fields seen from above. At his more decorative, Hersh opts for slicker, varnished surfaces animated with an agressive palette. While offering more drama, these works lack the reflective subtlety of their encaustic counterparts and seem at odds with Hersh’s more deeply rooted pieces. Fortunately they are few and are perhaps indicative of the artist’s willingness to push the edges of his expressive repertoire, which has also included some Color Field paint pours a la Frankenthaler or Morris Louis.
Over the years, Hersh’s work has presented a steadfast evolution toward essential elements, particularly in his paintings. The upolstery-like embellishments have receded, the cluttered and sometimes fussy appearance of his collagees and works on paper have been streamlined, and in the plastic qualities have ultimately be come more organic through the use of molten wax. In the end, perhaps the Classical-Romantic dichotomy has even edged closer to Zen.