Cut: New Works on Wood, the current exhibition by HENSE (Alex Brewer) at Sandler Hudson Gallery is a deep examination of artistic gesture. When compared with other successes in his long artistic career — such as a giant mural on grain silos in Western Australia, or the triumph of the more than 23,000-square-foot multi-story mural in Lima, Peru — Cut is a deviation from HENSE’s trademark use of color, shape and medium. What is, perhaps, most important about this set of new works in the Westside gallery is its allusion to the great Ellsworth Kelly. “21 Shapes” with its composition on wood and flat, opaque color application calls to mind Kelly’s similar wooden wall pieces, such as “Blue Curves” or “Red Curve VI.” While HENSE’s shapes are more whimsical and playful in form, they draw the viewer into the expanse of color. The presence of all 21 pieces in congruence overwhelms an entire wall of the gallery, rendering it the canvas for the mounted wooden objects. Signature to HENSE in shape and color, yet elevated from paint to three-dimensional, “21 Shapes” sets the stage for the other new works in the gallery.
While each shape is smooth and deeply colored, with the gesture found in their placement along the wall, other works such as “Stacked” and “Untitled III” illuminate the gesture via their mixed medium composition. In this exhibition, the wooden shapes, smeared in HENSE’s signature graffiti-meets-abstraction style, are held onto wood with screws made visible, a quality that brings a palpable texture and physicality to the works. Compared to HENSE’s recent wall painting at MOCA GA, “21 Shapes” is fashioned rather than painted. This intention is what allows Cut to take methods of abstraction to the next level, rendering wood the canvas and each wooden shape the abstraction. Though there is an emphasis on the separate states of abstraction of object and wooden canvas, both operate within aesthetic and compositional boundaries. Three-dimensional in form, the colorful arrangements jump out as if to exaggerate the artistic gesture and push it to the very forefront of the viewer’s attention.
Similarly operating are HENSE’s “Untitled” works on paper. While these pieces also work within the same world of aesthetic and compositional boundaries, the effect is different, more flattening. Though this is the case, the works on paper serve to complement HENSE’s stylistic choices and illuminate a more free expression of abstraction, as the works on paper have lost the confines of the wooden shapes present in all the other works.
Cohesive and thought-provoking, HENSE’s new work brings the viewer on a fantastical journey of observation in which form takes on new meaning and gesture becomes more than the manipulation of paint, but the manipulation of an entire work of art itself.
The Cut exhibition runs through July 9 at Sandler Hudson Gallery, 1000 Marietta St. N.W., Suite 116.