David Humphrey at David Richard Gallery
Regarding the recent paintings and drawings of artist David Humphrey, they are very curious indeed. What is the imagery? Who are these people? What is the message? Many are included in the exhibition entitled, “(Un)Real”, curated by Mary Dinaburg and Howard Rutkowski on view now at David Richard Gallery www.DavidRichardGallery.com . Visit the exhibition page at http://www.davidrichardgallery.com/Exhibit_Detail.cfm?ShowsID=266
David Humphrey, Proud Owner, 2009, Watercolor and pencil on paper, 11.25" x 14.5"
Humphrey is new to the roster at David Richard Gallery. For many collectors, the gallery is best known for its focus on Post War abstraction. Therefore, Humphrey’s figurative paintings might seem a bit out of step. But, not really, since his paintings reference and pay homage—some tongue-in-cheek—to visionary modern artists and abstract painters. Also, Humphrey incorporates formal elements of abstraction—mostly the gesture—with his Pop sensibility and cartoonish figures. But, more than the formal qualities, his paintings are conceptual and abstractions with respect to the protagonists and situations he portrays.
David Humphrey, Kicking Back, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 44" x 54"
At first glance, Humphrey’s paintings are colorful and instantly engaging due to the recognizable characters and elements. Some are witty, others outlandish and a few almost like a Polaroid. They seem straightforward at first, but they really are complex in that we are viewing people, who in turn are viewing something that we do not know or understand. That is the hook and how the mystery begins. However, there is more complexity because Humphrey is an art historian as well as a brilliant writer and critic. His paintings are full of subtle references under the guise of being reductive and “what you see is what you see”.
David Humphrey, Pink Couch, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 60" x 72"
To me, Humphrey’s paintings are about story telling and how a story changes as it passes from one storyteller to another. But, they are also about imagining situations and understanding people through the eyes of someone else, through their filters and memories. Humphrey is intrigued by the artworks of amateur painters and often, their artworks are the basis for his own paintings. There is a simplicity and honesty in the amateur paintings. Not knowing the people, places or situations in those paintings, Humphrey views the amateur painting and tries to imagine what was happening. Why was this situation or these people memorialized in this handmade rendering as opposed to taking a photograph? Humphrey then adds characters, modifies situations and embellishes to put his spin on the original.
David Humphrey, Shutterbugs, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 60" x 72"
Formally, Humphrey’s paintings are flattened out with a graphic and Pop sensibility. This is a very clever technique, as Mary Dinaburg noted in a recent gallery talk, because it depersonalizes the painting, making it more accessible and open to alternative interpretations. The technique also puts the focus on only one or two key elements in the composition: the protagonist and an aspect of the situation. The viewer does not get the complete story from Humphrey. Like the artist, we (the viewer) must now get into the head of the creator and try to view the painting from his perspective. The story evolves from the original yet again as we view the paintings and interpret them for ourselves with our own biases and histories.
David Humphrey, Horse and Rider, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 44" x 54"
Frequently, Humphrey adds broad gestural strokes in what would otherwise be a negative space in a painting. Or, sometimes, the gestures comprise the majority of the painting with the figures being in a corner or at the bottom of the painting in the very low horizon line. These gestures operate in two ways. One is to add a unifying compositional element without adding more detail that would otherwise take away from the protagonist, again, focusing the viewer’s attention on the most relevant elements. The other is to create tension across the canvas and convey the sense of abstraction. The combination of starting with something that is recognizable, ‘funking’ them up them through the narrative process and unifying them with gestural slashes of color produces abstractions that stand up to almost any non-objective Post War paintings.
David Humphrey, Shopping, 2014, Acrylic on canvas, 82" x 86"