Michael Ned Holte on Nathan Hylden

By Holte, Michael Ned | Artforum International, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Michael Ned Holte on Nathan Hylden


Holte, Michael Ned, Artforum International


FOR HIS DEBUT SOLO EXHIBITION at Richard Telles Fine Art in Los Angeles this past spring, the LA-based artist Nathan Hylden situated a tidy stack of 11 x 8 1/2-inch, perfect-bound and editioned books on the floor by the gallery's entryway. Free for the taking (and quickly snapped up), each volume was filled with nearly cinematic sequences of evenly spaced, if slightly wonky, fields of black diagonals appearing on lengthy passages of black, then white, paper--with individual lines becoming off-kilter, occasionally overlapping to the point of visual obliteration, as one flipped through the pages. In fact, the interior of the book might have looked like a printer's error--devoid of text and outfitted with a plain, matte-black cover--if it hadn't paired so perfectly with a small (29 x 23-inch) painting of black diagonals atop a black ground hanging directly above the ephemeral stack. The lines on this near monochrome's surface were visible only from certain angles, and the sustained attention demanded by the painting matched not only the formal, stenciled design of the book's sequences, but also those passages' implications for our experience of time. And so viewers became aware of Hylden's staging of a spatial exegesis--on repetition, on mirroring, on order and disorder--that would, as his exhibition unfolded, even propose a complex model of temporality with its articulation of a circuit between seriality and simultaneity.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Indeed, the show's title, "Again and as if to Begin," seemed only appropriate as two more black-on-black canvases were placed by Hylden in the main gallery, reiterating the monochrome in the entry and creating, in turn, a sense of the exhibition's having multiple thresholds. But Hylden created this impression most clearly by installing three visually hectic, untitled, roughly six-by-four-foot canvases amid two highly polished aluminum and painted sculptures. For these works, the artist employed a strategic seriality, making a number of similar canvases using the same materials and techniques. Each of the three paintings featured a stenciled thicket of black lines crisscrossing a field of bright orange brushwork and white gesso, with a pitch-black area taking over the right third of the support. These black voids, somewhat recalling unexposed film (not to mention the smaller paintings), are inextricably linked, since Hylden overlaid the canvases on the ground and used them as stencils for one another while spraying the black paint. His two sculptures--each comprising a pair of folded aluminum planes standing three feet high--result from a similar tactic, in which one angled plane is die-cut and then used as a stencil for its partner before being pulled apart to reveal this indexical relationship. With their high-polished, reflective surfaces, both sculptures literally mirrored the paintings on the walls, adding to the controlled visual delirium of Hylden's installation while also implicating the viewer in it.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

One immediate effect was to exacerbate a demand for sustained attention that again was issued by Hylden's subtly layered, lush surfaces, which were surprisingly created using spray paint and stencils. I say "surprisingly" because, contrary to expectations, these media are not employed by the artist to produce any graphic crispness, which one typically associates with images intended to be read quickly (whether construction signage or a tagger's brand identity), but are, rather, clearly used to agitate the eye. Hylden's paintings then produce a paradoxical slippage between what is anticipated from certain materials or procedures and what he actually does with them: Fluorescent orange paint, typically sought for its flat, Pop sheen, is here applied thinly in loose brushstrokes to produce a washy field beneath the diagonal lines--sometimes gently overlapping, sometimes crisscrossing--of sprayed black acrylic. …

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