The Wild, Wild West

One of the things that make the "Colorado Crime" paintings so compelling is the way Hull uses the majesty of the scenery to frame the ignoble activity that occurs in its midst. The compositions that result are more than a little unnerving. As paintings, these pieces are beautiful, but as narratives they're pretty ugly. The ironically titled "The Friends of Old Frank" is set in an isolated corner of the San Luis Valley, under a leaden, cloud-filled sky. The action, which takes place in the middle of the picture, is cast in heavy shadows. A kneeling man (presumably Old Frank) is about to be murdered by two gun-toting thugs who tower over him, their blue pickup just to the left. In "Side Street," two armed men, separated by a beat-up sedan, are about to confront one another, apparently over a woman.

While Hull's paintings look fairly traditional on one level, the violent and disturbing subjects he often chooses to paint give them a real edge. And like the Catholic works he saw as a child and again as a Marine in Venice, they're frequently charged with eroticism--even though women rarely appear in the paintings at the Arvada Center. That's because a recent series depicting intimate relationships between men and women wasn't included. "They're interiors, and this show's about the landscape," Hull explains. He plans to exhibit those paintings next year at the Emmanuel Gallery.

In the meantime, though, John Hull Narrative Paintings, which closes this weekend, serves as a fine introduction to a talent who's already a Colorado landmark.

John Hull Narrative Paintings, through April 3 at the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities, 6901 Wadsworth Boulevard, Arvada, 303-431-3939.

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