There is not enough hyperbole in my language arsenal to tell you how impressed I am with "Illusion/Allusion: Paintings by Barlow Palminteri and Ron Hinson" at the Minnaert Center Gallery at South Puget Sound Community College. This is the most impressive art exhibition I've seen this year.
To those who have been reading my column for these oh-so-many years, it is no secret that I think Ron Hinson is one of the best pure painters in the South Sound region. In some ways I'm even more impressed with Palminteri because he is self-taught and came to it late in life and now holds his own next to Hinson, who has spent a lifetime studying, teaching and making art.
Hinson's specialty is the painted construction. He cuts and assembles elaborate wooden structures, builds up textured surfaces and paints them with a combination of carefully planned patterns and rough, expressionistic brushstrokes. They are big, bold and - in some of his latest works - more colorful than ever.
Also somewhat new is his use of assemblage and collage. He has used some of that in the past, but never so extensively as in these recent works.
On your right as you enter the gallery is a painting labeled #10 (none are titled) that features a powerful contrast between the dark, heavy look of ancient wood or aged chunks of industrial materials in blocks of gray and brown on the left with a sheet of what is painted to look like blue-gray tiles on top and a decorative profusion of flowers and stripes painted on curvilinear shapes on the right. Bringing the flowery and playful together with the dark side without disrupting the unity of the whole is pretty amazing.
Something else Hinson has never before done in a gallery setting is to set up a display showing how he constructs a painting. (And yes, they are paintings, no matter how hugely three-dimensional; the essential visual elements are always approached from the perspective of painting on a flat surface.) This display is like a museum diorama of a Hinson painting from the planning sketches on paper to the construction of the parts that go together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle to the final painting. It contains some of Hinson's most extreme use of assemblage and collage elements and reminds me a lot of some of Robert Rauschenberg's early assemblages.
Palminteri paints portraits of himself, his friends and family inside his studio employing a lot of trickery in terms of perspective and illusion, with people and paintings reflected and repeated. There are pictures of himself in his studio with the same picture stacked against the wall in the same studio with open windows and doors bringing inside out, lending to his paintings the kinds of illusions we've seen in works by M.C. Escher and Rene Magritte.
In one of his paintings we see Hinson working with him in his studio (they visit one another's studios and exchange ideas). Hinson and Palminteri are facing each other on either side of a large easel; stacked around them are Palminteri paintings and pieces of Hinson paintings. It is painted in almost blindingly brilliant tones of red and orange with touches of blue, gray, green and violet. The figures are recognizable portraits painted in a style reminiscent of Red Grooms (another favorite artist who is seldom given the recognition he deserves).
Just as Hinson is showing a display of a work in progress, Palminteri is showing a series of paintings that show racks of preliminary sketches beneath rows of finished paintings. The comparisons are fascinating, and the display racks are fine woodworking sculptures.
Illusion/Allusio: Paintings by Barlow Palminteri and Ron Hinson
Through Oct. 28, Wednesday and Thursday noon to 4 p.m. and by appointment
South Puget Sound Community College, 2011 Mottman Rd. SW. Olympia