John Hull is such a good painter that if I were one of his former students I'd have to be pretty brave to show my work with his, even counting the honor of the thing. But four Hull students have been persuaded to join him in School 33's current "Five Painters," and they do all right.
Hull lived in Baltimore in the mid-1980s. He has gone on to teach art at Yale and have a New York gallery, but remains in touch with Baltimore artist and teacher Craig Hankin, who organized this show.
All five painters are representational artists who share an interest in the form's "narrative possibilities," Hankin writes in his curator's essay. Beyond that, their interests, like their subject matter, diverge.
Hull's subjects have included everything from war to baseball to King Lear, but an interest in how humans relate to one another has remained a more or less constant theme. Here he turns to the intimate study of how men and women relate -- or don't -- and finds that they don't.
The scenes are interiors, perhaps in the same house. One man and one woman inhabit each, the men usually clothed and the women nude or almost nude or getting nude. To be nude in front of someone clothed is a terrible vulnerability, but we don't get the feeling that these women are being exploited so much as that they are trying to connect and not succeeding. The men stand or sit or lie on the floor, look bored or nonplused or in agony, but we feel there's no real communion. We sense the men and women, in Hull's words, "are not on the same page."
These works create tension, emotional involvement and frustration in the viewer, who wants these people to get together in some meaningful way, but knows they won't. Hull's interiors -- warm, pleasant, not-too-specific rooms we can all see ourselves in -- help make us feel the pictures are really about us.
One can easily lose oneself in admiration of Hull's mastery of his means -- how he handles paint, his creation of light, the way he shows only part of a room yet gives you the feel of its size. These are not large paintings, but they are formidable.
Of the other works here, Steven Orpin's industrial scenes might stimulate environmentalist ire if they weren't so winning. By giving us a high perspective, from which we look down on his scenes, by emphasizing the muscularity of the buildings and the interesting geometries of their parts, Orpin endows his paintings with drama and gutsy integrity.
In Pahl Hluchan's fantasy paintings, people move amid creatures that look as if they came out of animated cartoons or perhaps horror movies. These are at some level psychological works, and they're excellently painted, but there's only so far an artist can take this sort of thing, and it begins to get a little old with no more than the five paintings here.
Three of Dana Cohn's paintings are composed of thousands of tiny brush strokes in various patterns that look abstract when you're up close but from a distance resolve themselves into recognizable images such as a dog. They are skillfully done, but this is essentially a gimmick. Cohn's best painting here, "Propaganda I," eschews this approach for a loosely painted image about advertising that has socio-political overtones.
Marc Trujillo creates small paintings of everyday interiors -- an escalator, a laundromat, a movie theater -- in which people go about everyday life looking silent and separate. They are well done, but they are too reminiscent of what Edward Hopper did better.
The "Five Painters" are all good, and together make an interesting show. It's no denigration of the others to say that Hull stands out.
Pub Date: 5/01/96
What: "Five Painters: Imagination, Observation and Experience"
Where: School 33 Art Center, 1427 Light St.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, through May 17
Call: (410) 396-4641