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Drawn Inward

Zeitgeist gallery artists focus on polished and battered surfaces

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Being Under Way: Works by Andy Harding

And What's More: Works by Tim Hussey

Through June 4 Zeitgeist Gallery

The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati is currently running a show on multiples, which in its case means mass-produced or mass-distributed objects in nontraditional media. However, multiples have a place in more traditional contexts, from printmaking to artists who return to the same themes repeatedly—Monet's haystacks, for instance, or countless other artists and subjects. This last sort of repetition solves one of an artist's practical problems: unless the artist dedicates herself to massive or labor-intensive works, there will be more art objects to make than radically different ideas to put in them. Instead, returning to the same theme lets her go deeper, find new angles and keep making art.

Andy Harding created multiples with a very focused scope for his current show at Zeitgeist. He has never been a fussy, "everything plus the kitchen sink" sort of artist, but he has honed his view down to the interaction of two materials—black walnut and aluminum—in a series of small constructions that rely on a common vocabulary of shapes and combinations. The mostly wall-mounted sculptures juggle three to five pieces of unevenly shaped, polished wood cubes with smooth, rounded edges, cupped within or masked by sheets of aluminum. The blocks are arranged differently in each work, sometimes stacked to project out from the wall, in other cases arrayed more side by side. Posts support the metal and wood so that the sheets of aluminum partially wrap the blocks but do not touch them.

Focus is the strongest characteristic of the work. Each element has been prepared carefully, the specific shapes of the wood accounted for in the compositions, the fabrication precise. All the sculptures are of a size that would fit in your hand, encouraging you to think of them as something to look at closely and intensely.

Harding's previous round of sculptures at Zeitgeist seemed to rise off the wall and move from two dimensions to three. These sculptures clearly inhabit the 3-D realm (although being wall-mounted they still have an inaccessible back side), but he also includes a series of abstract collages that use the same materials in a more two-dimensional form. The collages combine patterns cut from thin aluminum sheets and walnut veneer, accompanied by single-color, irregular shapes in oil paint. While these compositions are not literal schematics for the sculptures, they have a schematic's effect in translating the interaction of these materials into two dimensions.

The intense craft and the concentration on limited materials and forms impart a meditative quality, casting what is extraneous out of mind (like meditation). Harding's sculptures run the risk of being too battened down, banishing both psychological revelation and the world outside the artworks' own terms. Such criticism would have more weight if this body of work were all that Harding had done or intends to do, but that's certainly not the case. It does make you anticipate works from this artist in which he loosens the parameters.

Tim Hussey's paintings on paper make up the other part of the Zeitgeist show. The first comparisons that come to mind are not with Harding, but with fellow gallery artist Lain York. York and Hussey both create their works by adding color and then scraping it away, and Hussey's paintings include stylized figures that are similar to the African and Oceanic art that features so prominently in York's paintings. From those points of comparison, the two artists diverge strongly.

While York paints on and carves into a wood surface—substantial material that gives his work a sculptural quality—Hussey makes his works on paper, which is delicate and more ephemeral. You picture York fighting with his painting, but Hussey would seem to handle it carefully, risking destroying his piece as he works over the surface. And where York's masks and sculptures assert themselves in a very dramatic way, the figures in Hussey's paintings are buried under layers of paint and overlaid drawing. York clearly looks for a public voice. Hussey seems involved in something more private.

The figures in Hussey's paintings apparently are not taken from ethnographic sources, but represent personal characters and narratives. However, they read as inchoate, internal psychological forces, not quite in focus but forming an insistent presence. "Projection 1" provides one entry point for reading these paintings. A gray, undetailed figure is poised in midair, maybe falling down, or representing two figures struggling. It is positioned over a dark shape with a human face looking upward. This dark figure is a separate character in the scene, but also a psychological shadow or double to the figure above it. That writhing figure is involved in a complicated set of simultaneous actions—wrestling with itself, trying to keep its balance and not fall into the dark mass below it, and also emerging out of that shadow. It suggests identity as something that passes between the consciousness and a hidden, unacknowledged and less accessible part of the self. This sense runs through all the partially articulated figures that appear in these pictures.

If there is a similarity between Harding and Hussey, it lies in the way the surfaces of their work draw the focus inward. Harding's well-crafted abstractions force focus onto the qualities of the material, seeming to push away other sorts of signification and draw attention to the surface itself. Hussey creates a world of masked and partially worn images that cause his narratives to sink into the shadows of extremely private psychological experience, below the surface.

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