David Hornung makes paintings from both oil and gouache. He paints quiet simple, small houses located in fenced fields, bucolic scenes of nature, solitary women and men, memento mori, snakes and birds, paths and walls. Objects in his paintings seem to be a distillation of universal human experiences with the world and among each other. Some objects are singled out as being important by a kind of twin cloud, the direction of light, or glowing patches of color. The paintings are beautiful executions of color theory, which makes sense because David wrote the book on color theory “Color: A Workshop Approach.” His subject matter hovers between observation and the symbolic, and he refers to Philip Guston’s Alphabet series with plain respect, and like Guston, David was reluctant to talk about image-based thinking. We walked through Brooklyn on the way get some lunch, and David said that painting is hard to talk about because the ideas come out of working with images, that the process gives painters their ideas, which is a kind of reversal, because for most people who work with ideas – the ideas generate the process.
You can see David Hornung’s work at the John Davis Gallery in Hudson NY from May 23rd to June 16th.
“You become aware that light is being represented. Light becomes a player. It has a symbolic presence.”
David says he is not that interested in thinking about paintings as language, but to me language seeps into his images the same way one can imagine an ancient Egyptian intoning a sacred passage about the Nile’s flood schedule while reading hieroglyphs aloud. My imagination cannot quite recreate that moment of speech, but like the hieroglyphs, David’s images feel like they are talking about the flow of time and its impact on our lives.
On a personal note, David is the first person to give a job in the arts in New York. He hired me to teach at Adelphi University where he was the department chairperson.
We talk a little about books we have been reading, and David tells me I have to read George Saunders. I bought Saunders book “Pastoralia” yesterday, and I have to say that it is so good I read the whole thing in one day, it’s on par with Vonnegut, Raymond Carver, Joyce Carol Oates, and Flannery O’Connor. I see a connection between Hornung’s paintings and the work of these authors, because they both mine material that makes you feel the strangeness, the submerged exceptionality, of being alive.
“Vision in the raw is the reception of colored patches on your eye. First, the mind flips it over, for starters, then it manufactures roundness.”
“My problem with traditional perspective is that things are always in front of other things. A realistic rendering militates against symbolic imagery.”