Daniel Hutchinson’s Paintings for Electric Light

Upon walking into the small space that houses Daniel Hutchinson’s quietly dramatic exhibition Paintings for Electric Light, I took a moment to orient myself to the darkened room punctured by subtle glows; an electric light radiated in a palette that was seductive, trendy, and strangely nostalgic. On the gallery walls, a group of canvases and panels, in thick black oil paint, partially illuminated with coloured fluorescent light, drew me in for closer inspection, immediately playing with my perception of space and surface.

The potential of light as medium instinctively conjures up superficial parallels with Dan Flavin’s celebrated fluorescent tube installations. However, it is his earlier series Icons (1961-1964), monochromatic objects paired with light sources, that perhaps more fittingly serves as a comparison. In merging between painting and installation, it is the symbiotic relationship between light and paint that calls attention to the elements of display and the materiality of painting. In Hutchinson’s new series, the light literally illuminates the non-objective nature of the works, calling attention to the surface of the painting: to the thickness and depth of the paint, and the brushwork. The series reveals an exploration of line, pattern and form. This physicality contrasts with the vibrant ephemeral nature of the coloured light, as it is reflected on the painting’s textured surface. Thus, movement, as well as the spectator’s relation to the works, becomes as significant as the medium and the apparatus of the light source.

The malleable surface of the paintings, dependent on the position of the spectator, increases the work’s illusionary effect. The paintings appear simultaneously flat and dimensional, still and dynamic. Despite being monochromatic, hierarchy is noted on the surface of the works, as those particular areas that are lit and washed with colour demand the greatest attention from the viewer.

Paintings for Electric Light is guided by an awareness (perhaps even weight) of the history of non-objective painting. Nevertheless, with the additional medium of light, and its association with the divine, a sacred atmosphere is evoked. A sense of mysticism resonates in the display of isolated objects lit in an intimate room. Rather than overcome with the cerebral, I was left soaking in the enigmatic nature of the individual works, and the contemplative tone of the exhibition.

PATRICIA RITACCA is a graduate of the University of Toronto’ MA in Art History, Contemporary program. Her curatorial projects include Nature in the Garage, liveARTs/City of Toronto, and Dionne Simpson: 4′ x 4′, Art Interiors. Ritacca is based in Toronto.