During recent visits to his birthplace of Barbados, Seattle-based painter Denzil Hurley started thinking about the history of provisional structures and the ingenuity required to build and mend things with only the available materials on the island.
Hurley’s Glyph paintings grew out of these encounters. Mounted on repurposed sticks and poles of various kinds, he connects and critiques abstraction in painting and sculpture through his consideration of the practical uses of his materials. A term of Greek origin, a glyph is a symbol that conveys a message nonverbally. Most of Hurley’s paintings with this title are densely painted in black—one work frames the blank white wall—making the message of these particular glyphs obscure, pointing to their own form and function.
Many of Hurley’s Glyph paintings resemble placards—the kind carried by participants at rallies, processions, and demonstrations. In the absence of words or symbols, these signs disclose no allegiance to any cause, as though redacted. They remain vehemently themselves while together they resonate of street protests and festivals around the world. At the same time, they also engage the history of painting: double and triple canvases, also known as diptychs and triptychs, have a long history within Western painting. This association changes, however, when Hurley stacks his canvases vertically or otherwise resists the symmetry associated with these historical formats. The monochrome canvases recall especially the bold beginnings of abstract painting. In 1915, Kazimir Malevich’s celebrated painting Black Square revolutionized the course of art and became intimately tied to the most advanced social and political discussions at the cusp of the October Revolution in Russia and the discourse surrounding later events.
If there is a disclosure made by Hurley, as he implies in the title of this show, it is a reminder of the interconnectivity and conjunctions of paintings and signs, material and meaning, presence and absence, and the languages of painting and speech.
Image: 3 Panel Glyph #2, 2012–14, Denzil Hurley, born in Barbados, 1949, oil on canvas on panel and sticks, 60 x 56 in., Courtesy of the artist and CANADA, Photo: Phil Grauer.