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October 18 - November 15, 2008 at Lawrence Asher Gallery, West Hollywood

by Jeanne Willette

Richard Amend, "Arana de Luces,"
2006, oil on canvas, 12 x 12".

Richard Amend, "Palace" (detail),
2008, oil on canvas, 36 x 36".

Richard Amend, "Automatic Movement,"
2006, oil on canvas, 24 x 24".

Richard Amend, "Morning at the
Met," 2008, oil on canvas, 36 x 36".

Twenty-five years ago, Frederic Jameson attempted to describe the schizophrenic condition of the postmodern mind, unable to locate itself in urban territories with their indiscernable centers. Jameson claimed that we are caught in “spatial peculiarities of postmodernism as symptoms and expressions of a new and historically original dilemma,” explained as “a multidimensional set of radically discontinuous realities,” resulting in a loss of “a point of view.” Richard Amend and Christopher Martin Hoff are painters who are flâneurs, they wander urban landscapes in search of a sense of place in postmodern cities, (non)existing in a perpetual process of destruction and renewal. The resulting neo-landscapes eschew totality and seize upon fragments as liminal locators of the city.

Both artists reference earlier artistic processes of precision and exactitude: photorealism and architectural drafting. There is a sense of irony in their appropriations, for the artists have replaced modernist processes with deliberate vagueness and inexactitude. The effect of these works is romantic and painterly, but the viewer needs to look closely and be aware that the artists are remembering rather than representing. Both are willfully imposing their personal vision upon urban-scapes of memory and a sort of eternal state of the present.

A production designer for films and television, Richard Amend has been a traveler who finds locations for backdrops or “establishing shots” for actors. As part of his research, Amend would take photographs, which slowly became part of his own vocabulary of images. He presents Los Angeles and New York, composed of forgotten parts left behind as a nostalgic half-memory. In contrast to a nineteenth century set designer, the artist does not produce dioramas; instead he locates found objects that are fragmented allegories of an unrecoverable whole.

Amend has been exploring his terrains for decades, and the evocative images here are redolent of what he calls “the mystery of their history.” His series on the Palace Theater consists of details of a distant era, taken from deliberately awkward and skewed angles that suggest the difficulty of re-collecting the past. For Amend, light is key to his art. Painting in the strong south light of an open-air studio, he works from photographs, altered either by hand cropping or by Photoshop.  While the Impressionists thought of light as a carrier of color, Amend renders light as a dissolver of objects and meanings ranging from the Metropolitan Museum (“Morning at the Met”), to a chandelier lit resplendently in a dark theater (“Arana de Luces”), to a series of glass balls formed entirely by reflections (“Automatic Movement”).

Christopher Martin Hoff works in the tradition of topography, utilizing drafting skills borrowed from an architect’s studio. Hoff’s paintings, a combination of blue graphite and oil, are an uneasy combination of drawing and painting, coexisting in a state of incompletion. Unlike Amend, whose fragments tend to be samples of or survivors from the past, Hoff’s landscapes are floating signifiers of industrial wastelands, left-over places that are being built and un-built. The artist’s deconstruction of the built environment is doubly ironic when the spectator realizes that Hoff is a post-modern Monet, working en plein air in marginal territories that are much less benign that the suburbs that were favored by the Impressionists.

Hoff asserts the impossibility of such a bucolic vision by “editing” his scenes. Some are deliberately left unfinished or blank in areas, a post-modern impressionist sketch, with blue graphite continuing a ghost drawing of a building that is either coming or going. Viewers are unable to locate themselves in time or space, for Hoff has taken us to hostile and unfamiliar territories where we are then abandoned.

Although one senses Precisionist quotations and the presence of the likes of a Crawford or Sheeler, the incomplete completions by Hoff do not celebrate the industrial. His paintings mourn the loss of identity in a post-industrial world. But the artist re-identifies the works by altering signage and adding his own graffiti. The artist explains that he is attempting to create a “believable fiction” of construction sites in his neighborhood. As an exhibition of ambiguous sites, “Urban-scapes” is a postmodern project of contemporary “discontinuous realities,” a visual reiteration of a Frederic Jameson essay on our daily cognitive dissonance in Post Modern dystopia.

Christopher Martin Hoff, "Formwork
10," 2007, oil and blue graphite
on canvas, 15 1/2 x 19 1/2".

Christopher Martin Hoff, "Formwork
8," 2007, oil and blue graphite
on linen, 17 1/2 x 17 1/2".

Christopher Martin Hoff, "Floating
World 2: Power," 2008, oil on
canvas, 21 1/2 x 21 1/2".