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Review: Caleb Hahne Goes Beyond the Pale at Rule Gallery

The Rule Gallery is presenting a handsome solo, Beyond the Veil, by emerging artist Caleb Hahne, whose style combines realism and abstraction in a conceptual way. Every painting in the exhibit — whether a small portrait or a larger figure study — is anchored by a realistic passage done in grisaille. The images that Hahne uses — sometimes the same one interpreted in separate ways for different paintings — are appropriated from existing sources. The figure paintings are also based on pre-existing sources, with two coming from Hahne’s own photos and the third inspired by an old pornographic image. A key characteristic of these paintings is that Hahne leaves out parts of the imagery; he does so by blocking areas with smears of color, painting over details entirely or simply not carrying them out in the first place.

Hahne’s interest in conveying identifiable subjects reveals a background in illustration, which he studied at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. Until a year or so ago, he was mostly interested in making drawings and collages, so the idea of exhibiting paintings is relatively new for him. Hahne explained to me that, intellectually, he approached these paintings as though they were collages, using passages of paint in lieu of scraps of paper. Looking at the very contained blobs of color used to partially cover the faces and bodies of his subjects, you can see what he means.

Removing visual information and adding elements from different vocabularies together in the same piece — representation colliding with abstraction — is reminiscent of the work of John Baldessari, and Hahne cites the great L.A. conceptualist as an inspiration. But there are also some aesthetic relationships closer to home: Other young area artists — in particular, Mario Zoots and Laura Shill (whose solo is currently on view at MCA Denver), who are also following a quasi-Baldessarian path — create pieces that can easily be compared with Hahne’s. And if you fudge a little, you can throw Michael Dowling into the mix. (Is this something of a Denver school?)

Hahne has also clearly absorbed some of the lessons of Clyfford Still, notably the use of small patches of unexpected color to set up juxtapositions, playing with the relationships of figure to ground. Though Still is long dead and never lived in Denver, his life’s work is on display here at the Clyfford Still Museum, where Hahne studied it. 

Hahne’s Beyond the Veil has been extended through May 24 at Rule Gallery, 3254 Walnut Street. For hours and other details, call 303-800-6776 or go to rulegallery.com.

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