Steven Hull: “Never Again Sharpen Your Teeth On the Rope That Holds You So Safely to Shore” at Rosamund Belsen Gallery

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Viewing his personal, collaborative, and curatorial practice along a single continuum of experiential encounters triggered by impressive objects, Steven Hull describes his new exhibition of painting and sculpture, “Never Again Sharpen Your Teeth on the Rope that Holds You So Safely to Shore,” as “part seaside carnival, part ocean voyage.” But that descriptive is not necessary; long before the incessant, eventually charming calliope music and soft yellow glow of the strings of deckside lights set the mood, the vivid, feverish burlesquerie of the images themselves telegraphs what you’re in for, as surely as the drifting twinkle and sugary promise of the pier down the beach. Soon, much like approaching the looming glow of an actual carnival, surreal fabulism and hints of a seedier underbelly present themselves, hiding in the shadows of the family-friendly veneer. Whether these shadowy places of sex and grift are cautionary and unsettling or beckoning and seductive is perhaps more a function of the viewer’s disposition than the work itself. Mixing together the Picasso-esque graphic character to the black-and-white drawing-based works, with a little Gustonian flair in the color scheme and caricature, plus some post-Medieval cartoonishness in the more narrative works adds up to as much a Weimar kids show as a reamplification of early 20th century art history.

Major works like I Don’t Want to Go (all works 2015), spanning over 10 by 7-and-a-half feet, and With Your Hemlock on the Rocks employ saturated colors and segmented allegories that do seem drawn from dockside lore. The oil and ink transfer on blue paper pieces have the schematic surface mottling of blueprints or grave-rubbings, but allow the focus on Hull’s skill and jaunty edginess as a draftsman to take center stage. Three acrylic on wood and plastic sculptures all with metal wheels seem the most like artifacts but the dense, elaborate detail of their decorated surfaces can only be the work of an obsessive artist, not a tradesman. The wall works are all viewed with the sculptures in the room’s foreground, engaging both the architecture and the viewer’s body, but stopping short of an immersive distraction. Though sharing iconography and functioning in tandem, each work’s gestalt is self-contained, with more than enough scenic detail, expressive nuance, and impressive impact to exist apart from context. The music never stops.

Image:
I Don’t Want to Go
2015
Steven Hull
Acrylic on canvas
10′ 5 1⁄4″ x 94 1⁄2″
Photo: Grant Mudford
Courtesy Rosamund Felsen Gallery