Heather Hutchison Learns from the Sky

Qianqian Li
Heather Hutchison's solo exhibit, "What I learned from the Sky," displayed at Winston Wachter Fine Art focuses on the use of ambient light as a main material in her work.

Heather Hutchison’s solo exhibit at Winston Wachter Fine Art, “What I Learned from the Sky,” showcases the artist’s recent exploration of using ambient light as a chief material in a piece. But viewers will be disappointed to see that the inanimate pieces have left behind the illuminative idea. The role of light in Hutchison’s works is overshadowed by excess pigment and solid material. Each piece is essentially a birch frame on the gallery wall covered by semi-transparent painted Plexiglas. And the presence of light is only significant in the sense that provides visibility to the gallery space.

Heather Hutchison is a New York-based artist whose works have been featured in museums such as the Brooklyn Museum, the Smithsonian and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. As a self-taught artist, Hutchison’s works often involve innovative mediums and spontaneous processes.

At first glance, Hutchison’s investigations of light resembles Mark Rothko’s color field paintings in their composition and transparency. But despite their mutual interest in luminosity, Heather Hutchison’s Plexiglas works are most concerned with capturing various light phenomena while Rothko toiled to express human emotions. Both are ambitious artistic undertakings, but Hutchison’s simple painted stripes in orange, blue and gray on transparent Plexiglas take a highly minimalistic shortcut instead of fully articulating the chromatic nuances of a sunset or other natural light phenomenon.

Hutchison’s works can be viewed not just as paintings, but also as light sculptures, however this is an unoriginal idea that has been explored since the invention of electric incandescent light. Compared to dynamic light compositions by artists like James Turrell and Dan Flavin, Hutchison’s collection offers little visual interest, and certainly cannot be compared to the transcendent qualities of Rothko’s color fields.

“What I Learned from the Sky” is not entirely devoid of highlights, however. In a series of bent Plexiglas structures that resemble minimalist IKEA coffee tables, the colored light transmitted on the wall by the painted surfaces cultivate an ambience that could only be described as nostalgic. In “Sleepy Golden,” light from the white and yellow color blocks reflected onto the wall mimics the vibe of a nap-inducing sunny afternoon. In another structure, a gray square is painted on one side of the transparent medium, while the reverse side is painted aqua, so from the front, the viewer sees a grey square with a bluish halo. With a slight change in perspective, the viewer can see the two shapes side by side, one on the glass, the other reflected onto the wall. Through her collection, Hutchison challenges the viewer to contemplate light beyond its usually perceived purpose, although to little avail.

“What I Learned from the Sky” is on view at Winston Wachter Fine Art from April 21 to May 27, 2016.

Email Qianqian Li at [email protected]

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