Monday, May 16, 2011

Much Ado at Malone, part 1: Welcome To Huggett World

Much Ado at Malone, part 1: Welcome To Huggett World
By Tom Wachunas

Judi Krew’s blog post on May 13 is a rightful and welcome praise of the work by R.M. Huggett currently hanging at Malone University’s Johnson Center. She speaks of his impeccable craft, his humor, and his color sensibility, which I agree is deceivingly simple at first blush, but in actuality quite astonishing in its subtle depth. She also mentions Huggett’s relative newness on the local exhibition scene, and predicts that he’ll be someone to watch more closely as time goes on. Again, I agree. So I encourage you to go to and read her take on the work. It’s good to see him getting thoughtful attention.

Since first commenting on his painting in the Annual May Show at The Little Art Gallery (see my post from May 4, as well as on his work in “Blind Date” at Anderson Creative, posted May 11), Huggett’s work has become increasingly visible as we move into summer, and it continues to call me - with all the toothy (and toothless) glee of his painted kids - to impart just a few more thoughts.

When I referred to Huggett’s work recently as “goofy” and “Nouveau Kitsch,” I certainly did not mean to pigeonhole it as too derivative, low-brow, or commonplace. The work is indeed remarkably sophisticated, and highly successful in accomplishing the artist’s stated intent (posted with his 50 works on display) to make painted surfaces look like printed ones. In that sense, they’re a refreshingly different way to appreciate a “painterly” esthetic. To build the pristine, soft- matte finishes we see here via accumulated layers of brushed-on acrylic inks mixed with gesso, is in itself a masterful achievement. Even the heavy black contour lines of these “cartoons,” for all their stylized precision, nonetheless have a disarming, jittery individuality that gives these uncluttered compositions a quirky life all their own.

It’s a life – a world, really – that is, while surreal at times, always unapologetically comedic. There’s no attempt at fancy three-dimensional illusionism here – just flat-out, matter-of-fact fun. It’s a world where (as indicated by both pictures and their titles) McDonald’s has become Mallard D’s; Lester C. McKracken IV is the 47th Fez-ident of our United States; Newton’s 7th Law of Physics declares that “any bubble blown up in slow motion will also explode in slow motion”; Cheddar cheese masquerades as Swiss cheese; aliens from outer space have been here along; and a bowl of mashed potatoes has as much iconic resonance as a Warhol soup can.

It’s a simple world, meticulously created with a whimsical logic true to itself, and where innocent absurdities frolic. A world where, if only for the time it takes to view it, we can seriously indulge a hearty laugh.

Photo: “Overachiever II,” by R.M. Huggett, on view at Malone University Johnson Center for Worship and the Fine Arts, in the main level hallway marked VISUAL ARTS DEPT, through August, 2600 Cleveland Ave. NW, Canton. Viewing hours are Monday – Friday 9a.m. to 5p.m.

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