Friday, January 16, 2015

A tribute to artist Ron Hinson

Weekly Volcano cover story Jan. 15, 2015

Ron Hinson in front of one of his paintings. Photo courtesy the artist
One of the South Sound’s greatest living artists has at long last been given some of the recognition he deserves. Ron Hinson is revered by his fellow artists but has never before been recognized as he should have been by the art establishment. Now South Puget Sound Community College and Tacoma Community College, have acquired Hinson paintings that will be permanently displayed in various locations on their campuses.

Ron Hinson in front of one of his paintings. Photo courtesy the artist
Hinson, now 80 years old and in failing health, invited art professionals to an open house studio-closing event and offered to give away his painted constructions. Gallery directors Nathan Barnes from SPSCC and Jennifer Olson-Rudenko from TCC offered modest donations for the paintings they chose — four of his painted constructions for TCC and nine works including a large triptych and eight of his painted constructions.

Three of his works have been installed in the Percival Dining Room in the Culinary Arts Center/ Student Union Building at SPSCC. “That entire building, like much of campus, went through an extensive remodel last year,” Barnes said. An art purchase call had already gone out and the three pieces were selected and purchased for $3,000. In addition to the pieces purchased by SPSCC, Hinson donated other painted constructions. The other pieces will be hung around campus in buildings such as the new library.

The four works donated to TCC have been installed in the Harned Center. Hinson’s paintings have been included in numerous shows in the TCC art gallery, and the college had previously purchased one of his painted constructions that now hangs in the entrance to the Art Department. As TCC spokesperson Rachel Payne put it, “The Harned Center interior just got a whopping dose of color.”

Ron Hinson's paintings in the dining room at South Puget Sound Community College. Photo courtesy SPSCC art gallery
His works are made of Masonite edged with wood and painted with vibrant acrylics. The constructions are complex and require special boxes for storage and transport. Hinson always reassembles and hangs them himself or supervises the hanging. Mechanic Dave Wellsbury and Olson-Rudenko installed the four art pieces at TCC under Hinson’s direction. Proper lighting is important to Hinson, who, according to Payne, “doesn’t want the abstract planes of his work mucked up with shadows.”

“’Cause it creates shapes that I don’t want,” explained Hinson. “I want no illusions; I just want it to be the way it is.”

Installation is a complex process — sort of like putting together a 3D puzzle. Hanging the pieces at TCC took most of the day. They hang from small wooden wedges called French cleats, a solution suggested by a furniture-maker friend of Hinson and his wife June Kerseg-Hinson.
“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever put together in my life!” Wellsbury told Hinson after they finished installing the first piece in the conference room.

His constructions are three-dimensional objects, but Hinson considers them paintings not sculptures because the surfaces of the shapes are conceived as planes on which to apply color. “The three-dimensionality makes possible shifts of relationships and openness of structure. It also reinforces the objectness of the painting rather than illusions on the surface,” he wrote in his artist statement.

They are sometimes based on things in the real world or even on historical personages or events (I own a piece of his that is his take on Jacque Louis David’s “Death of Marat”).  Sometimes descriptive titles are added, but for the most part they are untitled. He encourages viewers not to seek representational interpretations.

Barnes said, “Ron's work is visually striking and formally sophisticated. Simply put, his work is very good. But I think what's important here is that Ron ultimately chose to live in Olympia. And he has spent 30 plus years here if I'm not mistaken. He's an important part of the arts community. And even closer to home, Ron was an instructor in SPSCC's art department from 1989-2000. In this regards, SPSCC feels a strong sense of pride. And it's an honor to bring many of Ron's most ambitious works back to campus where the community can continue to benefit from his artistic contributions for years to come. The entire process of acquiring Ron's work was personally exhilarating for me because I got to see the community come together around the future of his work in a way that doesn't often materialize.” 

Hinson said, “I offered the painted construction as a gift to those interested in my artwork. My gallery director friends at TCC and SPSCC asked the Foundations at each college to accept as many of the painted constructions as they could into their permanent collections to be displayed in campus buildings. Both TCC and SPSCC have generously paid a modest monetary gift to me as a gesture of appreciation for my donation. I have deep gratitude to each college for making it possible for my artwork to be continuously on view to the public on their campuses.”

He said he will continue making art, “but not painted constructions,” when his health improves.

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