Tod Lippy on Henry Shum

The process of falling asleep has been described by scientist Nathaniel Kleitman as dormiveglia—a succession of intermediate states, “part wakefulness and part sleep in varying proportions.”

While this transition manifests differently in each individual, here’s how I experience it: With my eyes closed, I wait for an image to appear. It’s nothing I will into existence, but rather something that materializes gradually on its own terms—a faint, glimmering outline of another person, a distant landscape, an undulating abstract form—charged by the shimmering phosphenes generated by my retinas. As I “watch” these pictures come and go, often merging together, I know sleep is imminent.

It would be extraordinary to depict this mash-up of psyche, physiology, and chemistry in physical form, but I was always convinced that its ever-shifting components would make such a thing impossible. Yet the paintings in Henry Shum’s exhibition “Hex” have changed my mind. Critics have rightly taken note of the “liminal” characteristics of the artist’s work, which he achieves via his trademark method of diluting oil paint with linseed oil into thin washes, which are sometimes overlaid with spot varnishes, to create diaphanous layers that imbue each canvas with a dynamic, even inchoate, depth. In the past, Shum’s techniques have been credited with merging the boundaries between two and three dimensions, between the real and the symbolic, between dream and memory.

I would argue that the paintings in this show evoked most resonantly the ephemeral process of dormiveglia. In Maar (all works 2022), two translucent figures, one extending an outstretched arm toward the other, bear witness to several other human forms that hover before them—statues?—and that occupy the composition’s middle and far distance, a space that could be an atrium, the facade of a building, or the inside of a forest. Shum’s enigmatic layering keeps all of this up for grabs, especially given the dendroid forms occupying the upper half of the canvas. While these shapes resemble branches from the “tree trunks” hinted at in the image’s background, they also suggest the network of veins and arteries visible on the retina when light is shone on a closed eye—a reference, I would argue, to the internal source responsible for this riveting vision.

That allusion to our perceptual apparatus was echoed in Ghost, the show’s only horizontal painting. At first glance, Shum’s rendering of a schematic bird’s-eye view of an urban streetscape in the center of the work called to mind the nighttime aerial landscapes of Yvonne Jacquette, but fleeting forms—rocks? flames?—encroaching upon the lower left of the picture are balanced by a column on the right that leads the eye up to the encased, cerebellum-like folds hovering at the top of the canvas.

Another landmark scientific paper on the process of falling asleep written in 1937 for the Journal of Neurophysiology compared the difficulty of pinpointing the onset of slumber to that of determining the exact moment when someone dies. Whatever the sources of Shum’s subject matter, he is a remarkable painter. His mastery of color and his restraint in its application were evident throughout the exhibition. In Lunar Pilgrimage, the rusty-red wash that appeared across several works was paired with a green pigment that suggests oxidation—another transient process whose progress comprises many intermediate stages. Combined with the artist’s manipulation of formal elements—a human figure once again depicted from the back, a horse, a forest, a skeletal cityscape—Shum’s deft handling of hue underscored his ability to evoke the uncanny nature of a progression whose stages we can neither discern nor control.

Source link

We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By agreeing you accept the use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.

Close Popup
Privacy Settings saved!
Privacy Settings

When you visit any web site, it may store or retrieve information on your browser, mostly in the form of cookies. Control your personal Cookie Services here.

These cookies are necessary for the website to function and cannot be switched off in our systems.

Technical Cookies
In order to use this website we use the following technically required cookies
  • wordpress_test_cookie
  • wordpress_logged_in_
  • wordpress_sec

We use WooCommerce as a shopping system. For cart and order processing 2 cookies will be stored. This cookies are strictly necessary and can not be turned off.
  • woocommerce_cart_hash
  • woocommerce_items_in_cart

Decline all Services
Accept all Services
Open Privacy settings