May Be Seen Moskowitz Bayse Gallery, Los Angeles Reviewed by Christopher Michno
Loosely speaking, Jack Hoyer is a painter of landscapes. May Be Seen, his debut exhibition at Moskowitz Bayse in Hollywood, expresses the hallmarks of modern landscape painting, identified by some historians as beginning with Gustave Courbet: eschewing romanticism in favor of empiricism and the conveyance of inner states of mind. Strictly speaking, only three of his seven oil-on-linen paintings are landscapes; the other four are scenes – places in Los Angeles, or unremarkable locations chosen by the artist on lengthy road trips – that include concrete, buildings and infrastructure.
In spite of his canvases’ preparation and facture, which signal the most traditional of approaches – rabbit skin glue, lead white/titanium white oil primer, and thin glazes of oil paint – these works don’t look traditional; there’s no chiaroscuro, no thin semi-glossy glazes of the artist’s proprietary recipe built up to a shimmery surface. In actuality, Hoyer’s approach is exceedingly modest, even unassuming, though time intensive and elaborate.
These seven paintings span eight years from 2007 to 2015, putting his production at roughly one painting a year. On the most obvious level, this suggests a nearly monumental investment of time, which translates, in terms of Hoyer’s production, into a kind of looking, and a kind representation of a site that is both thoroughly modern, reflective of contemporary life, and informed by early twentieth century landscape painting of the California desert – or perhaps the affinity is just a by-product of the places and subjects Hoyer selects: the expansive spaces of the West. Yet his process of accumulating through the application of the thinnest of layers of paint, and a commitment to looking, aided by digital photography, gives his work an independence from those representations of pictorial continuity and the sublimity reflected by California’s vast skies and desert floors.
Hoyer’s works are far from exuberant; there are no unadulterated, pristine vistas, no bringing the viewer into a romanticized regard of nature. His process begins with taking multiple photos of his subject; these are straightforward: raw material for the facture of his paintings, data for an algorithmic process.
The various digital files get stitched together to create a large composition. It’s unclear how much fiddling Hoyer does. Various parts of the final painting reflect the digital “stitching” of multiple image files, even suggesting patterning or tiling of one area into another, creating a certain degree of tension within the paintings.
Overall, there is a prosaic quality and an aspect of banality in his scenes; they are all unremarkable, yet Hoyer invests them, surreptitiously, even seductively, with an energy that is remarkable. After a while, anomalies, the result of digital disjunctures, but also the result of making, begin to present themselves with clarity. I found initially that I had a tendency to gloss over them – as if my brain wanted to fabricate a seamless continuity – and that only after a while did the niggling itch of visual rupture force me to look more closely.
In Big Bear Land Slab (2011), the left hand edge of the painting becomes abstract as the mark-making that Hoyer uses to represent needles and pine tree branches becomes patterned to the point that the structure overrides any sense of naturalism or fidelity to realism, and improvisation and the evidence of the digital copy and pasting in Hoyer’s source material becomes evident. At some point, this internal tension begins to tear at the very seams of pictorial coherence and generates a kind of violence in the picture.
Yet the place, as unremarkable as it is, emanates a certain level of stillness, which translates from Hoyer’s approach, as if we could begin to feel present at the site constructed by Hoyer. This feeling of presence impressed itself on me and persisted in spite of my discovery of more signs of construction within the image – graphite grid marks barely concealed by the fine layers of Hoyer’s thinly applied paint, as if the stuff allows a glimpse into the artist’s mind as he is painting.
Yet, in spite of this transparency of process, Hoyer’s painting – or his mind – remains teasingly opaque. Just because we see his choices does not illuminate the reasons for the choices. Even more intriguing is Hoyer’s approach to painting a ranch style residence in what appears to be the early advances of winter in Yardley Ranch House (2009). As grating as the evidence of his digital sourcing becomes in Big Bear Land Slab, it takes a poetic turn in Yardley Ranch House. Patterns of the asphalt shingles that cover the roof invest a lyrical distortion of space as implied lines collapse and converge or abruptly disrupt visual coherence. Pieces of tree branches interposed between roof and camera disappear in space briefly, only to reappear, as if momentarily dissolved into thin air or tunneling.
Hoyer conveys the visual effects of atmosphere as a tree in the distance, beyond the house, seen above the roofline turns into a kind of shimmering mirage-like apparition. This is a different kind of effect than the previous, and it is a particularly delicious one. Reflections in the house’s windows morph into the realm of abstraction with subtle colorations.
Though Hoyer has nothing to do with hyperrealism, he conjures photographic effects and juxtaposes them with painterly ones. For example, the representation of water flowing through a drainage ditch in Montana Detour Tree (2014), a painting that simultaneously suggests Nineteenth French landscape painting and early California landscape painting. The tree could be the kind that farmers plant in rows at the edge of their fields as wind breaks, or it could represent an opportunistic individual sprouting in an unlikely, yet obvious place. The tree – or rather, cluster of trees – is not quite center, while the background objects recede into the picture plane in fuzzy detail, the impossibly cerulean sky set off with a bank of clouds that extend to the horizon. This picture, and Montana Parking Lot Tree (2013), conjures road trips, undoubtedly like the ones the artist made to locate these sites, through the plains of the western United States. There is a sense of place as both foreign and strangely familiar.
The work that most resembles early California landscape painting, Joshua (2007), conveys an atmospheric sky with hints of lavender, cerulean, and the misty white that glows around the horizon, with a beautiful range of colors in the desert foreground, but the wormy construction of the desert floor, composed with a highly patterned brushwork breaks once again into abstraction. Hoyer’s buildings situated in Los Angeles, with diverging edges that should be parallel, and views through windows – on the left side of Wilshire Center Building (2015), or the disjointed surfaces of Arco Towers (2007), oddly curving/canting to the right – deliver a mix of observation and fiction, as constructed through micro-processing.
Driving through Los Angeles prompts comparisons between Hoyer’s compositions and the actual sites. Rather than a record of movement through the city, Hoyer’s paintings evoke a meditation on the act of seeing and a kind of ontological rumination. The satisfyingly orderly remnants of the graphite grids that scaffold his pictures, peeking through the thinness of the paint, suggest a meta-architecture that limns interior and exterior worlds. By looking, recording, reordering information and finally, composing, Hoyer probes the limits of what we know, and how we can know it, and the limits of looking and seeing.
In comparison to other contemporary painters who take landscape as their subject, Hoyer seems to be working in a singular manner. Unlike Connie Jenkins, for example, whose lushly painted landscapes and microbiome paintings arise from an environmental concern, or even Ann Lofquist, whose paintings of territory from Santa Maria to Paso Robles seem to more closely resemble Hoyer’s project, but is more lush, Hoyer’s work is understated and phenomenological, an extrapolation of ontological musing rather than explicitly political or a statement of sublimity.
Christopher Michno is a Los Angeles area art writer and the Associate Editor of Artillery. His work has also appeared in KCET’s Artbound, the LA Weekly, ICON, and numerous other publications. He is also an editor for DoppelHouse Press, an LA based publisher that specializes in art, architecture and the stories of émigrés.