Tuesday, August 20, 2013
I am very pleased and lucky to have a colleague of mine, Brienne Walsh write up an essay after discussing my upcoming solo show in Berlin at Strychnin Gallery. Please have a look see at her perspective. In The Birds, an ancient Greek comedy written in 414 BC by the playwright Aristophanes, a pair of middle aged men from Athens convince the kingdom of birds to build a city in the sky so that they can have dominion over the Gods in the heavens and the humans on the earth. The city, they plan to call Νεφελοκοκκυγία, (Nephelococcygia) which in English is translated at “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Although the city was never realized, the term survived history. In the 20 used by philosophers such as Nietzsche, and politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, to describe an unrealistic utopian state where everything is perfect. “You’re living in cloud-cuckoo-land” became a common phrase to describe someone who was delusional. It also came to describe the practice of looking up at the clouds, and seeing figurative forms emerge from their shapes. For his exhibition at Strychnin gallery in Berlin, David Hochbaum reclaims the original use of the word to describe his paintings, sculptures, installations and photographs. In them, he shows the viewer visions of worlds that he created solely from his imagination. “I was looking for a different way to say ‘kingdom of spirits,’” he says of coming upon the title for the exhibition. “Νεφελοκοκκυγία was kind of perfect, because I like to paint clouds, and I like the use of words that aren’t literal, but rather make suggestions.” Each work is the sum of many different components that derive both from Hochbaum’s subconscious memories, and his obsession with using many different kinds of processes — printing, painting, photography, sculpture, carving, drawing and writing to name just a few. “They’re the result of a collective unconscious,” says Hochbaum, who lives half suspended between the real world and the one that he sees in his dreams. “I feel like I’m both terraforming and solving puzzles as I create each one of the works.” The two large-scale painting-based wall installations most obviously reference the “city in the sky” from The Birds. Consisting of a collage of photocopies, prints and drawings that together form the shape of a walled city, the works are redolent of great Northern Renaissance paintings such as The Tower of Babel (c. 1563) by Pieter Bruegel and the surreal landscapes by Hieronymus Bosch. They also have roots in the fantasy literature about King Arthur that Hochbaum read as a child, as well as his great love for the intricate drawings of Richard Scarry. “I started noticing connections with Scarry after I began the paintings,” Hochbaum said. “The bright color schemes and worlds within worlds, but also the absence of human beings.” The absence of human presence is intentional. “I don’t draw figures well,” he explained. “The buildings become figures; the cities become landscapes of figures.” In the space of the composition, Hochbaum’s architectural structures floats on an expanse of blue, like the abandoned cities in the classic Japanese anime film, Castle in the Sky (1986), which derives its inspiration from Jonathan Swift’s novel Gulliver’s Travels. Upon closer inspection, the sky bears traces of phrases and lines of text that Hochbaum wrote into the background of the work. “Whatever went through my head as I was making the painting goes into those words,” he says. Although the text is a stream of consciousness not meant to be translated literally, he says that he is often inspired to write down lyrics he mis-hears from songs he listens to while he paints. The frames of the paintings, which Hochbaum also constructs by hand, are littered with tiny hand-made houses. “It adds a kind of old world, cuckoo clock dimension to each piece that I really enjoy,” he says. “They become toys that you don’t let your kids play with.” No two houses are the same — they betray a sort of obsessivecompulsive internal logic that doesn’t allow Hochbaum to ever repeat a work, no matter how small the dimensions. Along with the paintings, Hochbaum will show photographs of his niece Carly taken in the woods near his hometown New City, in upstate New York. Much like the architectural paintings, the images depict haunting landscapes that seem like glimpses into parallel realities. Hochbaum first started photographing Carly when she was 6 — today, she is 10. “I used to feel nuts going into the woods with a little girl, and a bag full of ropes, hammer and scissors,” he laughed. Sometimes, joggers would encounter them along a path, and go running off in the opposite direction. Carly, however, loves being a model — so much so that she often directs herself during the shoots. She is both his muse and his co-conspirator. The works they create together have the feel of fairy tales — looking at them, you get the eerie sense that you’ve seen them in your minds eye before, when you were being read stories by Hans Christian Andersen as you fell asleep in your early childhood. The figure of Carly comes to life in the child-sized mannequins Hochbaum chose to include in the exhibition for the first time in his career. On their heads, he placed his hand-made houses and birds, forming a visual lineage between the objects he places on the frames in his paintings, along with the props he uses in photo shoots with Carly. The inclusion of all sorts of mediums serves many purposes. First, it creates a sort of inclusive environment that reaches out into the space of the viewer so that they are immersed in a world of physical objects that they can’t ignore. Secondly, it shows the artistic virtuoso of Hochbaum, who is a self-proclaimed “process freak.” “I want to be a great painter, and a great photographer, and a great printer,” Hochbaum explains. Working in so many different mediums insures that Hochbaum never gets bored — every morning, he wakes up, and follows his mood. Some days, he feels like painting. Others, hammering frames. And others, layering images together so that they form a dream world. “It opens up the doors for things to happen spontaneously,” he says of the fluid way that he approaches his work. In the exhibition, the viewer is given entry not only to Hochbaum’s subconscious world, but also his studio in the East Village in New York City, which is littered with objects that he’s created over the many years he’s been working as an artist. There, too, visitors can look up at the walls, and become lost in their own imaginations. Stepping into the space, one feels lost in time. The sounds of the street disappear. Concerns of the outside world slip out under the door. Days slip into nights, and then mornings. Hochbaum’s true genius lies not in his mastery of many processes, but rather in his ability to make people yearn to be a part of his world. Brienne Walsh is a writer and critic who contributes to the Village Voice, The New York Times, Art in America, ArtReview, Modern Painters, Hotshoe, Interview and Paper, among other publications. Her personal blog is www.briennewalsh.tumblr.com
Thanks to the efforts of Yasha Young(Strychnin Berlin) and Kallenbach Gallery in Amsterdam, my good buddy Daniel and I have got a 2 man show opening this August 22nd. This will be my first time showing in Amsterdam and I am glad it is along side the talented and capable Dutch artist Van Nes. I will not have the chance to be out there my self, but Daniel and our long time advocate and fearless leader, Yasha Young, will be there for our opening. We have produced a very special book to accompany the show so if'n you cant make it and would like a little piece of this project, please go to the gallery site and pick one up. Its a bit of our history and it will help out our cause a bunch.