James Havard at The San Francisco Gallery

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Figure with Hat
2014
Oil on Board
17″ x 15″
Photo: courtesy The San Francisco Gallery

The idea of a signature style, the paradigm underlying Abstract Expressionism, is no more. Today, nobody blinks at, for example, Gerhard Richter’s three styles. We no longer hold with the unitary model of personality: like Walt Whitman, we are complex; we contain multitudes. It is then surprising and exciting to behold the diversity of James Havard’s recent work at the new San Francisco Gallery. Havard is best known as an abstract illusionist. In the 1970s and early ’80s, he created abstract paintings that featured heavily impastoed acrylic brush strokes floating above neutral grounds and blocks of brushy color, with airbrushed highlights and cast shadows: think of Hans Hofmann, given a playful Roy Lichtenstein twist. Those who love that trompe-l’oeil style will delight in three large acrylic paintings full of formalist mischief, Zuni Run, J.C. Blackie (James’ Father) and Posted Mimbres Forest.

In the late 1980s, Havard changed gears, incorporating collaged elements, painted/drawn words and numbers, and sketchily rendered figures in order to explore identity and history. After his move from New York to Santa Fe, elements from Native Indian culture, especially the Mimbres tribe of New Mexico, appeared, and the artist darkened his once-pastel palette and phased out the spatial ambiguities, resulting in works exploring temporal ambiguity: mixing past, present and future, poetically and allusively. Milano Gypsy, a monotype, depicts a Picassean archetypal couple with chariot wheels for legs. French Chickens, a mixed-media piece, depicts a nude lady of the night (poule de luxe), dressed only in slippers, feeding birds, with the cream, blue and gold palette adding opulently decorating to the mildly risqué erotic joke. Single Figure with Red/Blue/Green Face features a blocky, outsider-art-style nude, swathed in brushstrokes that resolutely refuse to define form-but work as vivid body paint. Andrea and Parading similarly depict nudes in rudimentary fashion, but ensconced within dazzling coloristic and painterly effects born of inspired improvisation. As Havard states: “The image comes out of the paint, I push it around and something happens.” Don’t miss Post Mimbres II, a stunning mixed-media work that pairs painting and collage, surprisingly and satisfyingly, within the simplified shape of a house.