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STEVE HURD

February 16 - March 29, 2008 at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica

by Diane Calder




"
Untitled (R.I.P. #5)," 2007–08, 
oil on canvas, 66 x 95’’.








"The Devil Is In The Details,"  2007,
oil on canvas, 33 1/2 x 51’’.







"
Untitled (Heads of State),"
2006, oil on canvas.








"Untitled (Roar Series #1),"
2007, oil on canvas..

Forgive yourself if, at first glance (before you read down to the attribution), you envision the text quoted on Steve Hurd’s “The Devil is in the Details” as a truism copped from the lintel of some diabolic art institution where students commanded by the likes of Mike Kelley and Dave Hickey are instructed to “learn to get along.”
 
The excerpt, deconstructed in flowing oil paint by Hurd, was actually lifted from an art metaphor proposed by Lieutenant General William B. Caldwell IV at a news conference in Baghdad’s Green Zone. Caldwell commanded forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Restore Hope/Restore Democracy, Desert Shield, Just Cause, etc., before serving as chief spokesman and Deputy Chief of Staff for Strategic Effects in Iraq. Caldwell contended that, A transition is not always a pleasant thing to watch as it happens. But when common goals are achieved, speed bumps and differences of opinion along the way are soon forgotten. Every great work of art goes through messy phases while it is in transition. A lump of clay can become a sculpture; blobs of paint become paintings which inspire. The final test of our efforts will not be the isolated incidents that report daily, but the country that the Iraqis build.”
 
To shoot down Caldwell’s contrived theory of warfare and art making, Hurd utilizes a painting process that exposes the difficulty of designating Caldwell’s words with his runny, dripping medium. Revealing every step of his hassle with the text, openly sharing the messy struggle that is his process, never achieving perfection, Hurd liquidates Caldwell’s “all’s well that ends well” premise.

Additionally, by positioning at least one of the paintings from his “R. I. P.” series within sight of, but at a distance from “The Devil is in the Details,” Hurd scores another victory. Depicting flag draped coffins of American service personnel, the works “R. I. P. 4” and “R.I.P. 5” are based on scanned digitized images of what might be defined by Caldwell as “isolated incidents that report daily.”  They are exactly the type of messy detail erased from public view in the mass media by Bush administration policies.

An examination of the dimensions of Hurd’s “R. I. P.” paintings, 34 x 50 ½” and 66 x 95,” confirms that they were not fabricated to fit in any notion of size or proportion predetermined solely by aesthetic norms or news magazine formats. Instead, the physical size of each canvas is established by Hurd’s method of operation. Focusing on photographs from the Internet that provoke his interest, Hurd enlarges them in a projector until the pixels that compose the images bulk up to the size that works best for each particular painting. Spectators can simulate Hurd’s procedure by walking across the gallery from “The Devil is in the Details” towards “R. I. P.” or the closely related, almost impressionistic scenic representation of a graveyard, “Sunset 3.” Isolated pixels, which cannot be fully discerned from a distance gradually come into view, like individual brush strokes in a Chuck Close portrait or single panels in the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
Hurd convincingly portrays a vulnerable and shrinking globe, deflating against the dense black abyss in “Out of Gas.” He has a history of coaxing painting into whatever style best denounces the dysfunctional debasement of American culture he happens to be targeting. Underlying his sardonic wit and new genre study insights culled at UCLA with mentors Chris Burden, Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy, are hard won painting skills Hurd earned as an undergrad working with Bay Area photorealists. This exhibition of nearly a dozen large, energetic paintings provokes us to examine the significance of Hurd’s work from more than a single point of view.