Art in America, by Raphael Rubinstein, February 28th 2013
For a while in the late 1990s David Humphrey was engaged in a fascinating collaborative project with two other painters, Elliott Green and Amy Sillman. Working under the moniker of Team Shag, these three New York artist-friends would pass canvases back and forth among themselves, gradually building up weird amalgams of one anotherâ€™s subject matter and style. Although Humphreyâ€™s new paintings look nothing like the productions of Team Shag, they possess a sense of multiplicity, of the canvas as a place where diverse painting practices can coexist, which suggests the continuing influence of that short-lived experiment.
In most of the paintings, big abstract forms and explicitly figurative elements jostle alongside each other for the viewerâ€™s attention. These abstract elements can be biomorphic blobs as in Hoodies (all works 2012), a winter landscape featuring a huddle of hoodie-clad youths, or sweeping gestures as in Scratcher, where a malevolent black cat is clawing a bloody, prone human figure while wide painterly brushstrokes loop in and out of the scene. In other works, such asChanging Sneakers, in which an oddly truncated young man is fiddling with his footwear, the tangle of abstract forms that loom over the figure includes both biomorphic and gestural elements.
How are we supposed to take these collisions? Are the shapes and marks meant to be read as visual correlatives of the depicted narratives, emanations of the figuresâ€™ inner states? Possibly, but Humphrey is too restless (and inventive) a painter to fall into formula. Although abstract elements are present in every painting, their relationship to the figures is in constant flux. They can intertwine, or be absolutely separate, as in a boldly disjunctive canvas titled Kicking Back. The upper half of the painting is filled with a turbulent, mud-brown gesture that looks like it might have been made with a mop or a broom. Below is a pair of legs and feet that appear to belong to a woman relaxing on a beach. There is a marvelous gratuitousness to the brown gesture, which nonetheless may conceal (even from the painter?) some occluded meaning, like the anamorphic skull in Holbeinâ€™s Ambassadors.
The most explicitly narrativeâ€”and perhaps most memorableâ€”painting in the exhibition is At the Door. It shows a barefoot woman in a summer dress listening at a closed door. Light from the room behind spills out the bottom and sides of the door, while a colorful array of abstract shapes (diaphanous blobs, enamel-like dots and strokes) swirls around her head. The Rothko-like brown and gray geometry of the door and wall contrast with the pretty dress and the candy-colored forms near the womanâ€™s head. Like many of Humphreyâ€™s pictures, At the Door (like another of this showâ€™s standouts, Cement Truck) might be an allegory about the art of painting, but it also conveys a rich, almost novelistic sense of story. Lately, Humphrey seems to be moving away from the cartoony distor- tions that typified his work in favor of a relatively straightforward style of figuration and more unified subjects. Itâ€™s as if the abstract elements have siphoned off and transformed Humphreyâ€™s cartoony impulses. The results suggest exciting new possibilities for an artist whose iconographic daring and exquisite painterly skills have been too often overlooked.
BEER WITH A PAINTER- DAVID HUMPHREY
Hyperallergic, by Jennifer Samet, Oct 25th, 2014
What I hoped to get from talking to David Humphrey were answers. The images in his paintings are zany, raunchy, and wild: a girl in a lawn chair holding monkeys by their scalps; a woman absent-mindedly marking another womanâ€™s buttocks with daubs of paint; cats sitting beside slices of white bread partially spread with peanut butter. I wanted him to explain what it all meant.
We met in his Long Island City studio before the opening of his current exhibition atFredericks & Freiser Gallery. At one point, I asked him about a word he had used, and he explained it was a â€śneologism.â€ť It occurred to me that Humphrey relishes that: the need to create new language to describe what is nevertheless indescribable. He has been a prolific writer on art for decades, and in his own writing, he creates turns of phrase with words that are not usually combined, like â€śfizzy nimbusâ€ť and â€śtangled geodesics.â€ť
His paintings and sculpture are similar: improbable juxtapositions of elements that touch. The couplings and connections are aspirational but unresolved. Highly specific characters â€” men and women, horses and pets â€” conspire with abstract, painterly passages. Humphreyâ€™s work revels in these ambiguities, in the knowledge that there is always something impenetrable.
Humphrey was born in 1955 in Germany and lives in New York. An exhibition of his recent work is currently on view at Fredericks & Freiser. He has had solo exhibitions at the McKee Gallery and Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York; Fredric Snitzer Gallery, Miami; and the Contemporary Art Center, Cincinnati. His work is in public collections including the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. He is currently teaching in the MFA programs of Columbia and the University of Pennsylvania. An anthology of his art writing, titled Blind Handshake, was published in 2010.
Brooklyn Rail, by Phong Bui, November 6th, 2012
Just a few hours before his bandâ€™s rehearsal, the painter David Humphrey welcomed Rail publisher Phong Bui to his Chelsea studio on an early Sunday afternoon in late October to talk about the recent work, which will be featured at his one-person exhibitDavid Humphrey: New Paintings at Fredericks and Freiser (November 28 â€“ December 22, 2012), and more.
Phong Bui (Rail): Your idea of a blind handshake, also the title of your hybrid art book/critical essay collection (Periscope, 2009,) seems to suggest more than just the potential rapport between artists and spectators.
David Humphrey: It may even have a dirty overtone, like a hand job, or a secret exchange in which neither party is aware that they are having an exchange. But as far as the relationship between artist and spectator is concerned, it begins when the artist imagines that somebody will be looking at what they made. Even if itâ€™s not a very robust fantasy, itâ€™s still operational. Then when the spectator comes to the work they understand it as an artistâ€™s discourse that seeks a viewerâ€™s involvement in some way. Sometimes I like to include spectator surrogates inside the paintings. They act the role of an absorbed observer, merging into what they are observing the way Michael Fried so eloquently described it.
Rail: I feel this is revealed particularly in works that feature a coupling, for example, in â€śSierra Love Teamâ€ť (1997); the male nude with his back facing the viewer is identical to the one from the painting of the previous year, â€śBathersâ€ť (1996). The figures are awkward. Theyâ€™re unaware of their body reflexes; itâ€™s as if their body memory has been taken out of a real, natural context and put in some artificial environment, which intensifies their disunity and incoherence.
THINGS TO DO: DAVID HUMPHREY-WORK AND PLAY
Time Out, New York, Oct 27, 2014, by Paul Laster
Over the past 25 years, Humphrey has been active as a writer and curator as well as an artist, known for strange, hybrid paintings and sculptures mixing figuration and abstraction with equal amounts of dexterity and panache. An artistâ€™s artist, he has a knack for making smart, psychologically loaded works in which spectators of one sort or the other serve as protagonist, while animals, in some cases, are substituted for people.
The painting Horsey Love, for instance, depicts a small, pink horse nuzzling against a much larger one reduced to a solid-yellow shape. InThe Birds, two creatures, part human and part avian, huddle together on a set of branches that veer off into different directions as expressionistic gestures. Two other canvases, Posing and Shutterbugs, offer similar views of vacationers taking snapshots of themselves or of their surroundings, the latter rendered as abstracted expanses of color.
On the Couch features a stand-in for the artist staring at the viewer. He seems to have been assembled from different works, with a head sketched in outline atop a realistically painted body wearing tennis togs; the eponymous furniture on which he sits is little more than a swirl of gray and black patterns. The gaze features in another canvas, Two Mugs, showing a faceless nude model, head pressed against a bed with her buttocks in the air. Humphrey subverts the poseâ€™s obvious erotic charge by planting a female face on each of the womanâ€™s cheeks.
Complimented by an even more surreal trio of sculptures, Two Mugs and the other compositions offer multiple visions authored by a singularly clever mind.