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March 14 - April 11, 2009 at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Santa Monica

by Michael Buitron

"Untitled," 2009, acrylic on wood, 48 x 34".

"Untitled," 2009, acrylic on wood, 44 x 34".

"Train," 2009, acrylic on foam, 30 x 28 x 9".

Over the past decade, Steven Hull has institutionalized the processes of artists and writers finding inspiration in each other’s work. Hull is best known for these collaborative projects involving visual artists, writers, and musicians, each of whom riff on someone else’s creative output. The random pairings are usually sheared of identity. This was the case with “Ab Ovo” (2006), where the selected writers created stories based on the results of psychological tests taken by a group of visual artists. The stories were then turned over to a third set of artists who illustrated the tales. When looking through the resulting book, the reader can trace the inspiration and connections from one medium to the next.

Except for a musical interlude in one of the galleries, Hull’s current solo show is all his own. The three galleries contain platforms modeled after small town parade floats. A roving panoptic eye, making it’s way from one room to the next on model railroad tracks, interconnects the brightly colored figures and forms. On another track a hidden train chugs along with a couple of heads decked out for Mardi Gras, led by another eyeball. In a back corner one can find a small forest made from tree branches, while on another float, a paper-mâché woman appears to be suspended by balloons.

Hull cites his young son as an influence. The clunky renderings and gaudy displays slathered with paint may point to the puerile, but like Mike Kelly, style is the trickster to Hull’s substance. We are presented with the visual cacophony that bombards the multitasker. Rather than an eye roving from a GPS device to a text message to the road--or from one web page to the next--Hull inverts this process, sending a bloodshot eyeball careening through the multivalent worlds of his own experience. Bits of art history and pop culture get barely masticated, as recognizable chunks can be picked out of the resulting spew.

Unlike his role as impresario, pairing artists from varied media, Hull is playing yenta to his own history, creating an exquisite corpse from travels to museums as well as trips to the toy store with his son. Like a natural history museum that combines cultural artifacts of the South Pacific, fossils, and a gift shop under one roof, Hull’s dioramas amalgamate cultural detritus along with an iconography of stacked boxes that could be seen as an attempt at containment, but are more likely to represent the unopened artifacts and events that have yet to be seen or occur.

The paintings that encircle the installation are a mix of patterning appropriated from sources as disparate as Frank Stella’s black paintings to skateboard deck designs. Some of the hot colors and hard edges set off Neo-Geo vibrations, which get thwarted by renderings of sculptures, cubes, and tchotchkes. Sources for Hull’s imagery can be found in the decorated floats in the middle of the room; Oceanic totems, and a Salvador Dalí skull that recalls trips to the American Museum of Natural History and Dalí’s hometown of Figueres, Spain. In Hull’s solo show—like his collaborative practice—associations and inspiration abound.