Henry Hopper and Laurie Frank at the Opening Reception
November 9, 2008
Henry Hopper: Fun with Abstracts
From the Santa Monica Mirror
Reviewed by Lynne Bronstein, Mirror Staff Writer
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.
People Are Other People
Art stars appear maybe once in a generation and Frank Pictures Gallery is priviliged to introduce Henry Hopper, a young painter of singular vision in his debut show of paintings and sculpture, People are Other People. The progeny of actor/artist Dennis Hopper and actress/dancer Katherine LaNasa, Henry has put aside a burgeoning career in the cinema (master of horror, director, Wes Craven, has offered him the lead in his next film) to focus on painting and performance at Cal Arts, where he enrolled as a freshman this September. "Many people in the art world will say that 18 is too young for a solo show at an established gallery," says Frank Pictures Gallery owner/curator Laurie Frank, "but sometimes a talent is too obvious and too bold to be held back. This is definitely Henry's first movement in what will be a long and brilliant career." But Hopper's route to having that show was as serendipitous for Frank as it was for Henry. The gallerist was serving on the auction committee of Inner City Arts, an organization that provides programs in visual arts, ceramics, dance, music, drama, and other language arts to homeless kids at its campus in an underserved downtown neighborhood. Frank donated a one-night exhibition at her gallery as an auction item for the non-profit. Katherine LaNasa, a long time supporter of Inner City Arts, won the bid as a surprise for her son. When Frank first viewed Henry's paintings in storage at LA Packing and Crating, all the art-weary and rather jaded seen-it-all-before employees (LA packing stores the work of just about every important collector and artist in Los Angeles) took time out to rave about Henry's work. When Frank saw the paintings, they were a revelation. "I know how Warhol felt when he saw his first Basquiat," says Frank. "I walked in Laurie Frank and I came out Sonnabend."
Hopper calls his show People Are Other People after a quote by Oscar Wilde: "Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation." Hopper sees his large-scale abstract paintings as portraits of himself and others. "In these several paintings, I have attempted render images of purity, or non-linear 'emotional landscapes'," says Hopper. "I was very inspired by the purely abstract paintings of Diebenkorn, to which the artist Martin Facey responded: 'The artwork is less like a noun and more like a verb.' [Diebenkorn] would render completely abstruse paintings and title them things like 'Airplane' or 'Albuquerque.' My own approach to this philosphical technique was to examine my relationships with humans as opposed to objects. I had lost all sense of direction when painting abstractly, and I began to find my internal dialogue constantly revolving around my experiences with others. While painting I kept the immediacy and the subtleties of each relationship in the foreground of my emotional being Each piece is symbolic of the context in which each relationship exists. They are not portraits in the traditional sense, as both my subject and I are visible and invisible. Material (energy) is then cirularly run around these two objects and they are constantly in flux, the artist influencing this world, and the world influencing the artist."
"Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else's opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation."
Sociologists argue that during the first several months to a year of a romantic (or possibly platonic) relationship, each person is revealing to the other only a "representative" or a false, perfected rendition of themselves. This trait is certainly true of casual interactions we have with strangers, and raises the question: are we what we believe ourselves to be, or are we in fact something a bit more nebulous?
Typically language tends to distort the ineffable energy of circumstance or human beings, every interaction, replacing it instead with topicality. In these several paintings, I have attempted to render images of purity, or non-linear "emotional landscapes". I was very inspired by the purely abstract paintings of Diebenkorn, to which the artist Martin Facey responded: "The artwork is less like a noun and more like a verb." The artist would render completely abstruse paintings and title them things like "Airplane" or "Albuquerque".
J.M.W. Turner is another major proponent of this type of work. Considered one of the artists that laid the foundations for impressionism, Turner's mature work consists mainly of natural catastrophes and natural phenomena such as sunlight, storm, rain, and fog. He expresses a great deal of violence and intensity while rendering fairly common scenes, such as trains and cityscapes by illustrating not the literal content of the scene, instead documenting
how it felt.
My own approach to this philosophical technique was to examine my relationships with humans as opposed to objects. I had lost all sense of direction when painting abstractly, and I began to find my internal dialogue constantly revolving around my experiences with others. While painting, I kept the immediacy and the subtleties of each relationship in the foreground of my emotional being. Each piece is symbolic of the context in which each relationship exists. They are not portraits in the traditional sense, as both my subject and I are visible and invisible.
I interpreted this as the most basic form of visuality and artistic expression. It works like a belt system on a treadmill or a tractor. On one end, there are the experiences themselves, and on the other, there lies the artist and his or her personal knowledge and background. Material (energy) is then circularly run around these two objects, and the two are constantly in fluxus, the artist influencing his world, and the world influencing the artist.