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Davi Det Hompson's text-based work brings new meaning to words.

Reading Between the Lines


Davi Det Hompson
Reynolds Gallery
Through Oct. 2
Special Collections and Archives at VCU's James Branch Cabell Library
Through Oct. 17
VCU's Anderson Gallery
Through Oct. 24

"Sty Lew Eekly" may cause you to do a double take, and for that reason alone, Davi Det Hompson would have approved. The late Richmond artist was interested in language, but not in the orthodox sense; rather, he liked to mix it up — scrambling, fragmenting, isolating and modifying letters, grammatical signs, sentences, paragraphs and even books to create a new way of looking and understanding.

This strong interest in word, text, language and image are well-demonstrated at three of the five galleries spotlighting Hompson's works from the 1960s-1970s. The entire collaborative effort of the five exhibits has been cleverly devised as a type of syntactic treasure hunt. At each show, the viewer collects several pages related to that respective exhibit that can be stored in a handy envelope to provide an original catalogue. And, originality is certainly what Hompson was all about.

Starting at VCU's Special Collections exhibit, the viewer has a rare chance to observe the collecting habits of the artist — artifacts that clearly played a part in his subsequent art. "GOT" (as in what he "got," or acquired, through the years) displays examples of Hompson's personal collection — books by artists such as Sol Lewitt and Barbara Kruger, postcards and mail art, experimental writing, poetry and serial magazines.

An example of altering a book to express an original format is John Bennett's "Found Objects" (1973). Each page is not bound at the left as we are accustomed, but is loose and held in a box as if it were writing paper. The Cabell Library collection also includes a sampling of postcards and "Cyclopedia" — the international mail-in exhibition of 1973 where artists' plans and ideas were mailed, duplicated and exhibited. Utilizing the postal service as an artistic distribution system was an eccentric and pioneering element of the Fluxus movement, of which Hompson was a member.

Heading next to VCU's nearby Anderson Gallery, one has the unique opportunity to witness how Hompson's collecting and correspondence hobby emerges in his own art. "THUNK" continues the creative use of words, visual signs, typography and image through paintings, prints, booklets and sculpture. "ATTL" (1993) by Hompson and Cliff Baldwin is composed of three suspended Venetian blinds. Each has the word, or perhaps acronym, "ATTL" painted across the individual slots in bright red. The blinds are hung to partially overlap. Presented in varying degrees of openness, "ATTL" appears at first fuzzy and obscure, then fragmented, and finally crisp and clear.

Fragmentation is a key element in Hompson's process of re-presenting text. Snippets of conversation, quotes out of context, and isolation of single words or letters all break one's alliance to cohesive narrative and give pause to think. Often letters are reconfigured to create nonsensical words. By deconstructing and then re-constructing visual forms, Hompson challenged traditional ways of reading, asking one to question and transform their perceptions and systems of visual signs. He was not an anarchist, but an iconoclast — experimenting with ways of comprehending language, but doing so by simply pointing to elements that exist within the system itself.

The Reynolds Gallery focuses on Hompson's graphite on paper works from the 1970s. Composed of seven series, "DID" concentrates on only two letters — "X" and "O." Arranged together, these individual letters make an artistic tic-tac-toe game. Sensitively rendered, each letter is constructed by delicate penciled lines that make up the sign itself or the background. The very simplicity of the design and strict parameters the artist placed on himself give the works an austere, Zenlike quality.

All three exhibitions provide relatively small but effective spaces to document and reveal the semantic playground of Davi Det Hompson. In a world where one is inundated by visual signs and communication, Hompson showed us how to not only re-read the signs, but also read between the lines.


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