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Myth Informed

Art Review


EXHIBIT:Nicholas Hecht: "Dragon People" paintings, drawings and sculptures. Flynndog, Burlington. Through August.

ARTWORK:"Road Series 5 " by Nicholas Hecht

Chinese and European dragons are not of the same species. Those beasts of Chinese astrology are active, beneficent and spirited, while their European counterparts tend to slumber underground and torch knights when roused. Neither kind appears in Montpelier artist Nicholas Hecht's phantasmagorical Flynndog exhibition entitled "Dragon People." In fact, there are few images of actual dragons at all; rather, his creatures are anthropomorphic abstractions. The nearly 50 drawings, paintings and sculptures Hecht has installed in this capacious Burlington gallery collectively illustrate an original visual mythology, described by spirals, swirls, acute angles and closely controlled color harmonies.

The six drawings of Hecht's "Dragon Series" are the only works with that word in the title. At first glance, these drawings appear to be childlike, if supercharged, doodles. "Dragon Series 5," executed in ink and colored pencil, presents two pointy-snouted creatures seemingly in conversation. But when Hecht's illustrative style is distilled into a pristine line drawing, his historical influences -- including Joan Miro and Paul Klee -- become clear. Hecht's approach to figuration is fully informed by a sophisticated aesthetic that builds upon, and reinterprets, those earlier expressive ideas.

"Road Series" is Hecht's group of five individual 24-by-28-inch paintings and one 7-and-a-half-foot-long triptych of three combined canvasses. All six paintings are hung in a straight line, and thus unified by their compositional similarities, as if Hecht had captured a sequence of characters from along the same journey. Several "Road Series" works share a low horizon of raw sienna -- like a wooden sidewalk. Hecht's figures are tangled jumbles of pink Caucasian colors featuring his trademark spirals, thinly pointed triangles and wonderfully varied weights of line.

"On the Dock of the Boat on the River of Dreams" has the clearest figure-ground relationship of these paintings. A large, abstracted figure is positioned in the foreground of an uncluttered background. Hecht employs a complex harmony of browns -- complex because the colors are thinly sliced variations of the same tonality, contrasted by a light blue spiral and similarly hued bolts of color. The abstract figure is centered along an acute, upright diagonal axis. Hecht's forms and spaces resemble a curvaceous brand of synthetic cubism, like Picasso's "Guernica," but chock-full of dots and flowing, peaceful lines.

"The Transfiguration of Pan" is a vertical grid of a dozen 24-by-29-inch canvasses combined into a monumental 116-by-72-inch piece. Hecht's drawing style is effective regardless of scale; this collective work is alive with the same kinds of interwoven rhythms that appear in his smaller pieces. Here Hecht's background is black, while cacophonous streams of slivered shapes and swirls of pale blue, pink and gray ascend toward the top of the composition, surrounded by sharply pointed green shapes suggesting teeth or plants. As this jumbled activity flickers over the nocturnal background, "The Transfiguration of Pan" exemplifies a mastery of negative space that is common to Hecht's works.

Four figurative sculptures made from brown-paper papier-mâche successfully translate Hecht's two-dimensional forms into three-dimensional space. The genie-like "Spirit Woman" and two pieces entitled "Standing Out From the Wall Sculpture" are installed high on the gallery wall; they loom over Hecht's paintings with similar angular, pointed and -- in the case of "Spirit Woman" -- serpentine shapes.

There is nothing dreadfully ominous or fearful in Hecht's art, but it's not all sweetness and light, either. He brilliantly sets up oppositional movements, creating tensions that have nothing to do with his subject matter. Hecht's unvarnished surfaces include feverish brushwork, and mixed-media passages of atmospheric gray help to transport his chimerical figures in and out of naturalistic dimensionality.

In Hecht's imagined world, dragons and people seem to be spirits evolving along the same seamless continuum.