The abstract, in art, almost defies criticism. It’s admittedly not for those who insist on form as content. Abstract art creates and/or captures a mood, is open to interpretation, can be decorative or can contain one or more meanings.
Henry Hopper, son of actor/artist Dennis Hopper, whose paintings and mixed-media collages are on display at Frank Pictures Gallery, calls his show “People Are Other People.” The title is from a quote by Oscar Wilde. The concept, says Hopper, is to create “non-linear, ‘emotional landscapes’ ” inspired by his relationships with people, although very few of them represent people – or any concrete shape, for that matter.
Most of the works are paintings, done with acrylic and spray paint on canvas. They use a limited color palette: red, black, gray, white, aqua, and some pink and light green. At first glance, they might seem to be just splatter and drip, as Jackson Pollock’s paintings seemed to be. Standing back, one can see shapes, moods, and possible scenarios. Like the classic psychological Rorschach test, the paintings lend themselves to different interpretations by each person.
Several paintings bear names of people: “Chris,” “Sarah,” “Dennis.” “Dennis,” a turbulent mix of red, black, and blue swatches of spray paint, attracted much attention at the show’s opening. One viewer said, “It looks like a New York street at night to me.” Indeed, one could interpret the paint splashes as explosions, fire escapes, fires, or blood from street violence. But with a name like “Dennis” (the menace?) it can also be Hopper’s impression of someone’s personality.
If this is the case, then “Sarah,” consisting of three black and aqua shapes, represents a mood (bright but with sad undertones), and perceptions of movement (one shape might be a lower torso with two legs walking). “Pamela,” all whorls of gray and black, might be someone with a stormy but indefinable personality. And all this interpretation might be irrelevant. It’s more fun to just accept the canvases for what they are.
Hopper’s mixed-media pieces seem less successful, as they use found objects to create three-dimensional abstracts that beg for meaning, but often elude it. Found object art constructions can be highly imaginative. But a work like Hopper’s “Blue,” a large blue plastic object (probably a doghouse roof) with part of an old DVD player attached to it, does not rise above being a nice-looking (due to the blue color) wall hanging that still looks like its components.
One mixed-media piece with allure, however, is “Tree.” A very small tree, its branches almost bare except for some dried leaves, lies on its side, thrust into a “planter” made from an old wooden stand, covered with black plastic and cardboard. On the surface, it’s more junk recycled into art. It’s also a comment on what ends up being regarded as junk. The tree was once alive, the worn-out stand is wood that was once a tree, even plastic is made from the wood of trees. Only up close does one see the words “Proceed with Caution” written on the cardboard. That may refer to the hazard of getting caught in the tree branches – or it may be a warning to us to recycle and to respect nature.
Henry Hopper is 18 and this is his first show. If not all of his works are equally effective, he does display an aesthetic and a point of view that, as his skill and insight develop, may give an edge to his future art. He is definitely someone to watch.
Henry Hopper: People Are Other People, through December 3, Frank Pictures Gallery, Bergamot Station, 310.828.0211.