Chris Hyndman’s solo exhibition at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery opened on February 16 and runs through March 30, 2013. The show continues his presence in the gallery that began in 2004 with his introduction in a group exhibition with Barry Roth, and Gordon Newton. Born in London, Ontario, Hyndman recently moved his studio to Chicago while maintaining his teaching responsibilities at Eastern Michigan University. His woven fabric topology, using acrylic on canvas-covered aluminum, becomes non-objective abstraction that dominates the entire field. These paintings display extraordinary effort at creating the illusion of folded cloth incorporating a subtle range of color values. When viewed in a gallery setting, the light reflects off the glossy acrylic paint adding a highlight that enhances the image. For this viewer, the tartan abstractions work best when the composition remains informal, seemingly arbitrary, and leaves all the edges of the canvas without reference to a solid color background or a formal symmetry.
I sat down to talk with Hyndman at the Susanne Hilberry Gallery shortly after the opening.
Ron Scott: How did you first get interested in visual art?
Chris Hyndman: I was one of those typical kids who liked to draw, and my parents noticed that and enrolled me in community art classes. I took advantage of as many art classes as I could in elementary and secondary school. I think the most significant decision was going to a vocational art school after high school, for a two-year period, before I attended university. People that taught there were artists who divided their time between their work and teaching. After that I went to university to pursue art and teaching.
Where did you go to undergraduate school?
CH: I went to the University of Guelph, in Ontario, Canada. It was located about half way between London, where I grew up, and Toronto. I was close enough to Toronto that I could visit the art scene there. I liked the program at Guelph. The teachers had established careers in Toronto and elsewhere, so I got a bit of exposure to what it’s like to do that, to make art for real.
What was your early work like, out of high school and university?
CH: During my first few years at university, I was making figure paintings. My first serious body of work back then was figurative, but it’s never been absolutely that. Even as early as when I was at the vocational school, although I was doing work that was representational then, I was also exploring ideas that were not. It wasn’t until late at university that I moved away from the figurative and went full bore into non-representational work. So that brings us to where I am now, where the work is not created from observation, nor is it driven by abstraction. I sort of ended up in a middle zone.
Why did you go to Ohio University for graduate school?
CH: That had a lot to do with a faculty mentor of mine at the University of Guelph, Ron Shuebrook, who had gone to school in Ohio, but had also spent a lot of time teaching on the east coast. When we sat down to discuss graduate school possibilities, he was the one who suggested Ohio University. It was a school with a strong program that might offer me teaching opportunities as a graduate student, and provide some financial aid. Ohio University was fantastic. It was as much of a formative experience for me as anything else I have done. I worked with Guy Goodwin. He’s a New York painter, and because he’d been established in the New York art community for such a long time, he had connections with an extraordinary group of artists. Basically, he drove the visiting artist program at OU. It seemed like every other week we had somebody really exciting there to look at our work. People like David Reed, Fabian Marcaccio, and Suzanne McClelland. To have them visit was incredibly important to me, and to my work. Guy Goodwin was good at bringing that part of the art world to us.
Do have any strong influences in terms of artist?
CH: I think David Reed is the person I’ve been thinking about most lately. He’s been working for a while on paintings where the color, surfaces and format are akin to film or TV screens, things that are lit from within or involve a type of technological light. I’ve been thinking about my painting surfaces in that way too, as a type of screen, because I’m making paintings sourced from a digital space. All of these fabric topologies and patterns that you see in my paintings come from fabric simulations that I do using Maya software. So it makes sense to me that the surfaces have qualities that seem right for “digital surfaces.” Jonathan Lasker is another artist that has influenced me; not because his work has much to do, visually, with mine, but his paintings are very process-conscious. That type of process consciousness is at the heart of much of what I’ve been doing in painting for a long time. The way in which the painting is made and the integration of imagery and materiality that results is one of my fundamental concerns.
What is the process that you used in making the work in this exhibit?
CH: It divides up into two parts or stages. One is the “image creation” stage, where I’m working inside the software, starting with a simple rectangular plane that Maya turns into a cloth object and simulates, in terms of motion, gravity, etc. in digital space. As a jumping off point, I usually start with some basic action — a few frames of animation — from Dudley Do-Right cartoons, replacing the characters with these simple fabric objects. So it’s within these animated fabric simulations that I find my compositions. I render them as stills and output a simple black and white drawing that I use as a template for the painting work. The paintings are on canvas, mounted to an aluminum board; they need to be rigid for some of the things that I do to their surfaces. Basically, the paintings are built in three layers. The first layer involves colored stripes or bands running in one direction. The second layer involves similar stripes, but running in the “opposite” direction. Using my paper template as a guide, I cut through the second layer with an x-acto knife and peel away parts of it to expose the areas of the first, bottom layer. And that’s what makes the pattern. Then there is a third layer, the shadows or shading shapes, which are glazed on with transparent paint. All of the paint, in all three layers, is applied with a roller. I’m trying to overwhelm the woven texture of the canvas surface by rolling the paint in multiple layers to create a surface with a certain pebbled texture. The pebbled surface creates these micro moments of disturbance where the light reflects in a particular, very active way. Where an area of color might be the same, the surface become active, alive with a sort of pulse, and adds a variable to the color.
Where do you see the work going from here?
CH: I think this exhibit is an opportunity to do something different and make a transition. I enjoy making these paintings. That said, there is a labor required to make them the way I do, to build the surfaces the way I do. There’s a point at which I need to do something different. I am thinking of doing things that are lighter. Not in terms of content or image density, but these paintings, the ones in the show, are not direct. They involve all manner of steps that are hidden and only revealed late in work, when the painting is finished or nearly so. I would like to see the painting more during the process of its making, by working in a more direct way, a lighter and less layered way. I’m very interested in digital surfaces, screen technology surfaces, and the way they give us imagery. They have a particular kind of texture, color, and a thinness, which produces a kind of intensity, but also a frailty. And the scale of the work might get larger, as a means of getting to paintings that can’t bear their own material thinness, and seem frail or weakened because of that. Although my work is grounded in many respects in digital technology — I couldn’t make these paintings without it — I’m also skeptical of it. I don’t have an endless belief in it. So, larger but at the same time lighter and fragile.
Susanne Hilberry Gallery
700 Livernois Street
Ferndale, MI 48220
Ron Scott is a pseudonym for a writer based in the Detroit area. View more articles by Ron Scott.