Elliott Hundley

Chicago

at Shane Campbell

Elliott Hundley: Pulse, 2018, paper, pins, photographs, string, wood, foam, and linen on panel, 71½ by 86¼ by 6 inches; at Shane Campbell.

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The heroically scaled wall-mounted compositions in Elliott Hundley’s exhibition (all works 2018) might initially register as dense painted abstractions. Drawing close to them, however, one sees that they are collages and assemblages teeming with individual images and materials. In Pulse, the microcosm includes a grid of brightly colored squares, each a fragment of an image framed by lengths of colored string affixed with sewing pins. Pins also impale cutout human figures swarming over the work’s surface. Some of these figures (a model from a picture in Robert Mapplethorpe’s Black Book; Laurence Fishburne in The Matrix) were appropriated, while others were taken from original photos by Hundley, including several nude or partially draped men striking a variety of poses, their bodies often streaked with bands of color.

The photographs from which these latter fragments were clipped are apparently themselves baroque affairs. Hundley has stated that such figures are friends and family he shoots in ornate tableaux influenced by opera and Classical mythology. Trying to find narrative threads in the final works, however, proves fruitless, and not just because the figures have been plucked out of these tableaux. There is simply too much going on to “read” the compositions in any definitive way. It is best to enjoy their sensual pleasures and to focus on particular points of intrigue, such as the way in which the black sequins stuck on short pins in Flag tremble and glisten. Hundley employs pins of varying lengths to create different levels in the works, placing some components close to the surface, and others at a farther remove.

Start displays an especially pronounced three-dimensionality, suggesting the influence of Robert Rauschenberg and Lee Bontecou. Hundley not only incorporated sundry metal, ceramic, and plastic pieces into the work, but also dug gouges into its panel support, lining the surface with black cloth and inserting a profusion of glittering pins. The effect is that the very fabric of this pictorial universe is rupturing. Small, cuplike metal forms cluster like barnacles on dull beige ceramic shards in the composition. Other found items—a toy pinwheel, black plastic bowls—have been left untransmuted, and feel superfluous. The problem worsens with Foot, a pedestal-based sculpture around which the wall works orbited. Composed mostly of a chunk of foam painted in earthy shades and white and swathed in a net of pinned strips of white plastic, the sculpture is studded with dried lotus leaves and seedpods that appear straight out of a craft store. The formal weaknesses of this work—as well as of Figure, the closest thing to a “pure” painting in the exhibition—strongly indicate that Hundley’s cleverness is best expressed when he transforms materials to create his own exuberant universes.