“If art is enjoyment it is not the enjoyment of things, but the enjoyment of form” Ernst Cassirer
The Polyoptical, new and related work by Bill Hochhausen, will represent his decades long effort at realizing a combinatorial art. Compositions unite carved sculptural forms with landscape paintings, to create a situation where spaces multiply the optical play of illusion and reality. “Backyard Lucy”, a snowless dark winter view challenges the notion of a unifying single perspective; three 'straight' paintings are set edge-to-edge in a way that invites the viewer to recombine perspectival choices. “Doc Davies' Whale” also sets three panels together, here the outer two are images of magnified details from the 'original', plein-air painting, set between them. An innovative framing device for “Doc Davies' Whale” surrounds the three panels with an elliptical, plum colored, textured plane. It has the effect of setting flatness of the rectangular panels into unstable equilibrium. Treating the framing manner itself, as form, is more of what Hochhausen describes as ‘setting up a perceptual situation’.
The Polyoptical, as one might surmise, refers to the many ways in which visual perception is experienced, especially by artists. Not because artists are special, but because a thousand years of art have informed how they see and think, one might call it, an intentional cultivation of awareness. Of course the combination of multiple images, the use of various methods and materials did not jump from the forehead of the avant garde. It's the derriere, garde that is, that Hochhausen looks to. This backward glance shows an array of painted images colluding with sculpture. And images differing in scale composed into single expressions, from Papua New Guinea to 14 C. Sienna. While ubiquitous and interesting, this formal conceit operates in a different category of meaning today.
A suggestion of ecological dread, in the work called “J.Tree Pitcher”, is evoked by the doubled painting of a desert view that features a spiky Joshua Tree, the painting is set atop a carved wood pitcher. Two images of the desert are seen; the smaller, painted at the site, and a much larger version on distressed plywood set next to it. The plywood grain pattern, like a weathered billboard, is made to come through and commingle with the image of the landscape like a spinning dust devil. The smooth, carved wood pitcher is warped in a skewed perspective and supports the desert scene above it; dryness reigns. Scenes of streams, lakes and woods are subjects in many paintings in the show, combined views as well as single paintings. A record of Hochhausen's extensive travels is whimsically organized in a string of small images called “Cross Country”. It’s a busy show. To quote Stan Laurel, “A fine mess you've gotten us into.”
Hochhausen's foundation, in the problematic enterprise of painting landscape from observation, rests on Cezanne's leap; to paint the sensations of perception, rather than the objects perceived. The figure/ground ambiguity (doubleness) of Cezanne's 'unstable' edges and much more, bring us 'to the thing itself' that is, painting. One might consider James Joyce's funning, double entendre jiddering of the text in that light. Cezanne died in 1906, Joyce was by then reaching for his shifting, allusive style. We have moments today when “the ineluctable modality of vision” as Joyce would have it, stills to a single perspective point to be, almost immediately, overlaid by other perspectives. And so it is in the studio today; the stable union of Adam and Eve is all shook up in our ambisextrous world. “Cezanne is an example” the Philosopher Merleau-Ponty writes “of how precariously expression and communication are achieved... no one can say where, if anywhere, it will lead”. It has led, in Bill Hochhausen's case to The Polyoptical, a long-term effort in craft and intellectual badinage. And a fine mess it is.