The Wild Side

Works by John Hull and Philip-Lorca diCorcia are among the pleasures at Ron Judish Fine Arts.

The motorcycle ride becomes the pivotal event in the story, propelling all subsequent action. Across from "Riders" is "Is This It?" in which the middle-aged woman with glasses shows genuine concern on her face -- conveyed by Hull with a couple of brushstrokes. Hull says the older woman is the younger woman's mother, and she's worried about where her daughter is. "Every Thread of Summer" shows the mother discovering the young couple in a compromising position, with the young woman having removed her blouse.

One of Hull's great accomplishments is the way he captures light and atmosphere. Many of the paintings take place in the dazzling light of afternoon. The effect is so successful that you can literally feel the kind of day Hull is conjuring up. But since the paintings record a real event that occurred over the course of 24 hours, from one summer afternoon to the next morning, some of the paintings show the light turning to dusk.

One of these is "Conversation," in which the drama reaches its crescendo. The bare-chested man from "Picnic" brandishes a rifle at the man in the black T-shirt, who, we recall, is the young man's older brother. Hull says the bare-chested man is the young woman's brother and is protecting the family honor -- very Romeo and Juliet, although Hull says his inspiration was Joyce's Ulysses.

"Picnic," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.
"Picnic," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.
"Riders," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.
"Riders," by John Hull, acrylic on canvas.

In "Minstrel in the Gallery," also set at dusk, Hull includes a self-portrait, his only appearance in any of these paintings. He shows himself leaning against the back tire of a muscle car and strumming on a guitar. Hull never played the guitar, but a musician is a universal and traditional symbol for an artist.

The next two pieces, "Incident at Stock Island" and "Sorry You Asked," are set at night. In both, people are engaged in intense discussions under artificial light emanating from nearby buildings. In "Incident," the police have been called. The poses struck by the two cops have a remarkable verisimilitude. The last two paintings are set the next morning, and although the police are still looking into the matter, everything is getting back to normal.

I walked through the show with Hull, and he explained the story to me. Although it is fairly complicated, a lot can be deduced, at least generally, in a purely visual way. But he did point out a couple of details I would have missed otherwise. One is the incorporation of his son Isaac's name, seen on signage and on the license plates of cars in many of the paintings. Another is the interplay of back, front and side lighting, which is carefully constructed to varied effect, depending on the time of day the painting is meant to capture.

The paintings take on a cinematic quality and unfold like scenes from a movie, which was intended. And although the incident itself is rather minor -- a gun pulled but not fired -- Hull imbues it with a sense of romance for the outlaw. There's no question but that his sympathies lie with those no-good biker brothers.

Interestingly -- or perhaps intentionally -- the third of the featured exhibits, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, also has a relationship to the movies and also romanticizes the outlaw. For diCorcia, it isn't bad-boy bikers but the equally hard-looking male hustlers who work the streets of Hollywood that capture his imagination.

There are other connections between these two artists aside from their shared fascination with rough trade. Like Hull, diCorcia was born in Connecticut, though a year earlier, and also trained at Yale. But the two have never met.

A world-famous contemporary photographer, diCorcia has found enormous success in the last decade with color-portrait photos of characters from the city streets -- like the hustlers in this show -- as well as homeless people in Times Square and even his eccentric friends in their homes. The photos look candid, but they're not; they've actually been posed.

The photos here date back to 1990-1992. At the time, the National Endowment for the Arts was under attack by conservative political forces in Congress. Among the issues raised was the NEA's funding of the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe, some of which were overtly homoerotic. In 1989, diCorcia received his own fellowship from the NEA, and the next year, he decided to use the money to subvert the conservatives. He conceived of the series of photos of male hustlers, paying each model with some of the money he had gotten from the NEA.

In each photo, the hustlers are only a small part of a larger, more complex composition. Set in the early morning hours, "Major Tom, 20, Kansas City, Kansas, $20" shows a youth lying on the wet sidewalk next to John Lennon's star on the Walk of Fame. A strong diagonal that mirrors the pose of the reclining Major Tom is created in the background by the bus that's passing by on the street. "Gerald Hughes, about 25, Southern California, $50" depicts a black weightlifter in nothing but briefs standing in a lighted doorway; facing him in the foreground is a TV screen with the face of Bill Cosby on it. This juxtaposition lends a humorous component, an attribute that is seen in only a few of the other photos.

With the prospect of seeing four separate shows plus extras, a trip to Judish is an apparent necessity. But of special interest is the two-shot look at troubled youth from Hull and diCorcia. Taken together or separately, these complementary exhibits are thoroughly compelling.

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