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Davi Det Hompson creates his own visual language through the repetition of forms.

Detish Objects


Devi Det Hompson:
Hand Workshop Art Center
Through Oct. 17
1708 Gallery
Through Sept. 25

If you are an artist or art historian you will likely find the citywide collaborative exhibit of art by the late Davi Det Hompson to be an emotional and inspiring experience. If you are a "civilian," you may find yourself perplexed by the above phenomenon, unable to read the art or understand how to use it. This is tremendously interesting and paradoxical because Hompson's entire body of work is about human communication, about making and reading signs, about meaning and response.

The dilemma is further enhanced by the fact that much of the work on view resembles artwork that was previously represented by artists such as Barnett Newman or Robert Ryman as avoiding or denying meaning, ostensibly to attain the sublime. Hompson's works look empty and negated in the way of their predecessors, and yet in actuality are not only meaning-full, but playful. How do we as novices enter these works and come away with something to live on, something that we were meant to have?

When babies first begin to speak, as curator Dinah Ryan suggests in her wall panel at the Hand Workshop exhibit, they produce single-syllable sounds that a caretaker immediately attempts to interpret in order to respond appropriately. Whether meaning accompanies these early sounds or whether they simply are shaped by positive response is part of the conjecture about the origins of language. This is a starting point for Hompson's inquiry, and for the viewer's understanding as well.

When Hompson began dissecting language to recognize its origins and physical truths, he applied the same strategy to his own identity. Applying a magnetic charge to the middle initial of his given name — David E. Thompson — he became Davi Det Hompson. This identified his consummate diligence toward the overthrow of the obvious for the examined. Hompson was intrigued by monosyllabic words that were puns or stand-ins for other ideas. As a tribute to his inclinations, as well as to how infectious that kind of word play is, each one of the citywide exhibitions of his art applies that form to its title. There is "SKIN" at the Hand Workshop, "MUD" at 1708, "THUNK" at Anderson Gallery, "DID" at Reynolds Gallery and "GOT" at Virginia Commonwealth University's Cabell Library.

The Hand Workshop's newly renovated galleries seem prepared specifically to respond to Hompson's sensual encaustic wall pieces. The works composing "SKIN" are finite, dimensional forms that encourage an understanding of the infinite. Their biomorphic shapes range from cinched or truncated to swollen ovoids, but are mathematical or rational for always involving symmetry. As pure form they are unrestricted enough to accommodate varied translation and association, and thereby permit personal meaning. One visitor commented that they reminded him of African shields, which, taken a bit further could effectively describe several functions of language: to protect the speaker, or to force an intrusion.

Made of concrete poured and hardened in forms, the 51 works are coated with sensuous, milky layers of pigmented encaustic. In the far gallery, an installation of "Clean Paintings" pulls the entire show into a denouement. A series of 12 paintings strung in a line across the wall, these diverse shapes of soft, destroyed color form an ambiguous sentence of visual Braille. They sound like a hushed conversation in the next room and look like the last lick of high tide that leaves a perfect line of broken shells.

"MUD" was co-curated by Howard Risatti and Kerry Mills for 1708 Gallery. An exquisite show to stand amidst, its installation may move you deeply. This show should be saved for last and experienced alone. This feels to be a body of work that engages with the earth, where the Hand Workshop's show seems more ethereal. The alluvial quality at 1708 is suggested in part by the richer earth tones of the works and through the additional cultivation of texture. Here, the paintings seem to be complex expressions — arguments or alibis — rather than singular statements, just by the nature of their corrupted surface and vacillating edges. The series of cement pieces just left of the entrance proposes motives, hidden agendas, stashed possessions loosely concealed. Always in sets of two, the parallel rectangular shapes could also be understood to express disagreeing or inhibited dialogue. In the back room, some of the striated pieces seem to express interdependent relationships as crystalline formations. The works in 1708 were generally made later in Hompson's career.

The substantial body of Hompson's work offered through the five collaborating galleries is an astonishing opportunity to witness the endless growth of one premise. Through repetition of forms, this premise becomes its own language, and through repeated visual immersion, the student of this language can absorb enough of its nuances to find their room and order a

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