Devin Borden Gallery, Houston
Through March 13
by Rachel Hooper
Every artist has their own way of knowing when an artwork is finished, when everything that needs to be there is there and when doing anything more would be too much. Sometimes the most interesting artwork is never finished; It is just about to fall apart. In barely holding together, it has a potentially explosive energy, like uranium atoms about to break apart in an explosive fission.
Geoff Hippenstiel's compositions have this kind of crackling cohesion that are just about to burst. From a distance, they seem like abstracted landscapes, portraits or cosmic maps. But up close, the large canvases are masses of frenetic brushstrokes and thick swaths of paint laid down by a pallet knife heaped on top of one another until the canvas vibrates with light, color and texture. He paints small and large canvases with the same vigorous technique, and his works range from vaguely recognizable images to completely abstract compositions.
For his solo exhibition at Devin Borden Gallery, Hippenstiel is showing a set of large scale canvases that move between metallic gold and silver and the light blue and green of a sunlit landscape. The forms are like mounds and mandalas, whose interrelationships of shape and color give a cohesiveness to the group. Again, the works are most compelling when they deviate from patterns and coherence as in the second painting to the left when entering the gallery's front door. Amidst the blob of gold, pinks and dark greys, there are these marks that look almost like accidents, as if the artist forgot to paint over a part of the canvas or his paint brush strayed from the area it was supposed to paint. These sort of blips or distortions give the painting a fascinating quality of not quite coming into focus—like static in the signal.
The chewy textures of thick oil paints are made less precious and objectified when paired with suggestions of chance and happenstance. The painting to the right of the gallery's entrance also has a more improvised feel to the asymmetrical splashes of color and darker shadows. The compositions come into focus as one moves back through the gallery, and although my preference is for the less solid forms, the echoes of round shapes around the gallery and contrast between the iconic and scattered elements make each canvas come alive relative to its neighbors.
This is one of those exhibitions where you wish the gallery would not sell the works individually or that a collector or institution would buy the whole group. The paintings are fantastic as a set, and they feed off of one another as they hold together and fall apart to varying degrees, alternating between the iconic and improvised aspects of the images. Hippenstiel graduated two years ago from the University of Houston MFA program, and this exhibition is the first solo exhibition for the artist after his time at UH. It is the culmination of two years working in the studio, during which his work has become richer and more nuanced. The confident marks and experimental compositions in Hippenstiel’s work show an artist that is finally coming into his own and defining his project, making it well worth the trip to see the exhibition in its last two weeks on view.
Rachel Hooper is a PhD student in art history at Rice University in Houston, Texas.