Painter Paul Huxley Explores Optical Illusion and the Limits of Abstraction

“The shapes I paint create a play between abstract form and language,” British contemporary artist Paul Huxley has said of his work. Though widely exhibited and celebrated in the UK, his new show at David Richard Gallery in Santa Fe marks his first solo exhibition of paintings and sculpture in the U.S.

  • Installation view of “Paul Huxley - Recent Paintings After The Venice Biennale” at David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe. Courtesy of David Richard Gallery and the artist.

     

Huxley’s newest works are, indeed, all about shapes and abstract forms. But the paintings featured in “Paul Huxley - Recent Paintings After The Venice Biennale” reveal the artist’s recent interest in bold colors and experimentation with perspective. There’s a sense of optical illusion to the painted stainless steel sculpture Gamma (2015); the arrangement of geometric shapes appears at once organized and precarious. The square shape, teetering high atop the point of a pyramid, creates in the viewer a vague sense of uneasiness. This carries into Double Ellipsis I (2015), an acrylic painting on canvas. Though abstract, the piece features shapes and planes that seem somewhat familiar—the eye searches to make sense of it, to somehow understand which line is the horizon, whether two joining planes form the edge of a tabletop, whether the round discs are old LP records, and the squares, perhaps, representing album sleeves. 

The definition of a work as “abstract,” after all, has never stopped the human mind from trying to make order of it, to discern recognizable forms and guess at their significance. Huxley’s playful new works reveal that the artist is fully aware of this fact. These paintings are just the newest in Huxley’s long and storied career. Born in London in 1938, he attended Royal Academy Schools; many years later, in 1987, he was elected a Royal Academician. In the years between and since, Huxley’s creative trajectory through the field of abstract painting has taken a number of interesting turns. His early “fluid series” of paintings impacted the development of the abstract painting movement in 1960s London; later, during a residency in New York, he started deconstructing the abstract painting’s traditionally monocentric format in his “key series.” He implemented cubist and surrealist influences in his grey “studio series” of the late 1970s.

Though Huxley’s latest series might not have a name, we can guess at the theme: the new paintings appear color-centric, concerned with illusion and viewer perception. It’s an intriguing departure for Huxley, and a fitting one for an artist who’s always pushing forward.


Bridget Gleeson


Paul Huxley - Recent Paintings After The Venice Biennale” is on view at David Richard Gallery, Santa Fe, Jan. 12th – Feb. 20th, 2016.


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