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Weekly Update – James Hyde’s word play at Jolie Laide


“OR” talks with “OK” as “OH” hangs back in the corner. “Capital B,” the tall, gangly guy, is telling jokes while the host, “Big A,” though looped and upside down, makes everyone feel at home. What is this, a cocktail party?

James Hyde, sculpture/paintings in the Project Space, a huddled mass of letters

James Hyde‘s “Word! The Stuart Davis Group” at Jolie Laide kind of looks like one, with sculptures of letters and short words—made from wood, spray paint, foam insulation, cinder blocks and other construction materials—forming little clusters on the floor. Short and tall, fat and thin, the sculptures strive to give Philadelphia-born modernist painter Stuart Davis (1892-1964) a fresh look in the 21st century.

James Hyde, OK, acrylic on paper mache, colored lights and wiring. 6×3.5×3.5 ft. 2007

Visually and materially engaging, the objects hold a strange but true allegience to Davis’ free-form, Cubist-inspired word- and jazz-influenced paintings. Cheerful, playful and colorful, these little letters and words speak on many levels about humans and language, just as Davis’ work does. (And they’re hand-made, which appeals to us in our era of DIY).

James Hyde, Big A, wood, styrofoam, acrylic stucco, fluorescent light and houseplants, approx 9×8.5×2 ft. 2009

But not all of Hyde’s works achieve liftoff.

James Hyde, To (Davis), detail. acrylic on archival inkjet print on stretched linen, 57×86″, 2008

His collage paintings in the gallery space wear their historical references to Davis a little loudly and seem more about formalist ideas. And because their enigma unfolds quickly, they are less magical than tricky.

James Hyde, At (Davis), detail, acrylic on archival digital print on stretched linen. 57×86″ 2009

The works combine digital prints and paint. Initially, you confuse the two because what looks painted is really huge and realistic-looking digitally printed blow-ups of brush strokes from Davis’ paintings. The flat white areas look like paper, and you assume they are the prints. The humongous paint strokes—so big and luscious they look like waves and drips of pudding—are very attractive, but once you’ve figured out that they are digital photos of paint, they lose their mystery and become nothing more than great big pictures. The white paint that Hyde sprays on in hard-edged geometric lines and circles ends up looking like White-Out hiding a mistake.

James Hyde, IF (Davis), detail, acrylic on archival digital print on stretched linen, 57×86″ 2009

Unlike the playful sculptures, the collage paintings seem rooted in formalist abstract concerns about color, line, shape and rhythm. And, also true to their art historical roots in Davis, words serve as the title of the pieces—“IN,” “TO,” “AT,” “IF,” “OF,” “AS,” “OR,” “ON”—and are spelled out in whole or part by the white painted areas.

Jolie Laide Gallery Director Travis Heck with James Hyde’s sculptural array

Hyde, who was born in Philadelphia but lives in New York, is a sculptural painter who frequently references art history and whose works showcase construction materials (according to the gallery, he worked in the construction trades and clearly loves these materials). He has previously created big pillow pieces painted like Monet’s water lilies and Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. He’s also made functional furniture. In his 2002 solo exhibition at the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Hyde showed colorful furniture made of plexiglas that looked like functional color-field chunks. A recent show at The Boiler in Brooklyn included functional furniture/painting hybrids like a “Davis” sofa and some white “Chunk” chairs for people to sit on while visiting the show. The sofa was covered with the blown-up brush strokes and it looked like a new kind of 3-D painting.

While they might look like toss-offs, Hyde’s sculptures are the magic of the exhibit—their combination of idea and materials comes together perfectly.

Read Daniel Gerwin’s interview with the artist at the gallery’s website
More pictures at flickr

Word! The Stuart Davis Group, Paintings by James Hyde, to Mar. 26.  Artist’s talk, with PMA Curator of Modern Art Michael Taylor, Fri. Mar 18, 7pm.  Closing event, with Jeremy Sigler and Shayna Dunkelman, Sat. Mar. 26, 7pm.  224 N. Juniper St.