Artist David Hutchinson has been making minimalist paintings based on Jean Genet’s writings for over 15 years. The four works currently on view at the Hiram Butler Gallery employ a code based on the names of paint colors—a = aquamarine, y = yellow, etc—to transform Genet’s texts into paintings. Hutchinson lives in New York City.
David Hutchinson: Paintings
Thru Aug 31
Hiram Butler Gallery
4520 Blossom St
Houstonia: Why Jean Genet? What appeals to you about his work?
David Hutchinson: When I was doing my doctoral coursework in philosophy [at the New School] I attended lectures by Jacques Derrida. Derrida had written a book called Glas that paired Genet and Hegel, so that piqued my interest. Then I was reading Sartre, and Sartre was a big fan of Genet. The thing I found about Genet that intrigued me, outside of his homosexuality, was the way he used formalistic language. The language was so beautiful and so seductive that it reminded me of Christian painting, where you would have all this beautiful formalism that is presenting this morally questionable material. So you get sort of seduced into the image through formal means. Genet, being gay and challenging the morality of the time, used formalism in a way that seduced people into a new way of thinking, which people called existentialism.
H: What was it that drew you to Derrida?
DH: He taught that just about all of our cultural responses are encoded in one way or another. He sort of pointed all that stuff out to me, and that’s when I took off into my investigation of formalism. But then September 11 happened and changed everything, and I decided that I wanted to start using color.
H: Why did 9/11 make you want to use color?
DH: It sort of shook me up. It sort of got me out of the Jacques Derrida frame of mind. I didn’t see things in terms of black and white anymore—I wanted to have a fuller life. And I wanted to paint and make art that embraced more. I wanted to embrace the continuum. In 2001, I began presenting Genet’s text using color bars. The upper part would be the English text and the lower part the French text. It was about communication, about how you and I might be saying the same thing but from different cultural backgrounds.
H: Who are some of your artistic influences?
DH: When I started looking into coded paintings, and the codification of painting, I became fascinated with two artists: Marsden Hartley—another gay renegade who was incredibly instrumental in American modernism—and Alfred Jensen, who was also a renegade. Jensen’s use of codification was much more exotic, but what I liked about Hartley’s painting is that it was really personally felt.
H: What point are you trying to make with your color-coded works?
DH: I wanted to show how we actually talk to each other in sentences. We don’t talk to each other in alphabets. The alphabet kind of just flows, but meaning is conveyed through cadences, through ups and downs of consonants and vowels.