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Richard Hull's Jazz

Canvases that explore rhythym

Chicago artist Richard Hull's mid-career is marked by an exploration of rhythm. From his days in graduate school, Hull's work was aesthetically comprehended through mysterious and intricate architectural images, which made up the principal features of his unique imagery. Today, following three decades of a studious dialogue with "rendering visible," Hull's visual vocabulary is beating with a newly discovered pulse.

Richard Hull (b.1955) was raised in Oklahoma City. In 1978, after graduating from the Kansas City Art Institute, Hull moved to Chicago for his graduate work at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he currently teaches. He sold his first work while attending graduate school and has enjoyed steady support from public and private collectors. Existing in the towering architectural environment of Chicago formally influenced Hull's imagery. Spatially, his drawings and paintings were composed angles and planes of bold perspectives, but this is also a city of music and constant variations of sound.

Hull saw Chicago jazz virtuoso Ken Vandermark perform at the Hothouse in 1993. A saxophonist and clarinetist, Vandermark is noted for innovative jazz compositions, processed and rendered non-sonorous forces through his performance. Rapt by palpable waves of improvisation and embedded by the musical experience, Hull began to play Vandermark's music in his studio for inspiration. Similar to Hull's work, the music composed and arranged by Vandermark emphasized different points and articulated varying intensities of tempo and mood. In 1999, Vandermark was awarded a $265,000 MacArthur Fellowship for creative leaders, and soon after, editor and writer Lloyd Sachs introduced Hull and Vandermark for a possible collaboration in music and visual art. The result was "Shadow Music."

On the second floor stage of the Arts Club in June of 2001, an ensemble of five musicians (clarinet, trombone, two basses and vibraphone), along with one visual artist, performed a riveting session of jazz and drawing. Hull installed two pairs of large canvases on each side of the stage, suspended from the ceiling to the floor. The top of each canvas showed Hull's charcoal drawings, an arrangement of major lines in straight and circular motion. Shadows of four of the musicians were projected onto the canvases throughout the performance, and their periodic motion integrated with the drawings. Centered on stage, behind the vibraphone player, Hull's own delineated shadow performed a visual reaction. Throughout the jam session, the artist was engaged in a process of eradicating a large and beautiful charcoal drawing that he had been creating for several weeks prior to the event. Tuned to Vandermark's acoustic reverberation, Hull methodically applied large strokes of black paint to his charcoal work, and by the final note of the collaborative charge, the drawing had been completely erased. Subsequently, in the fall of 2001, the remaining four charcoal drawings were exhibited at Chicago's Carrie Secrist Gallery. 

For a few days in September of 2002, Vandermark and his Territory Band recorded ambitious tunes for Map Theory. The last and longest piece on the CD was named "Image As Text," and was dedicated to Hull. The image on the cover of the CD was a printed reproduction of Hull's painting. In the notes, Vandermark wrote, "I am very, very happy that Richard was willing and interested in contributing artwork to the Map Theory project. The CD format is not always kind to a visual artist, and Richard's paintings are large and fantastic, deserving a much bigger space than is possible here. Even so, in this reduced forum, it's good to be working together again."

Hull's current work decomposes and recomposes figurative and abstract elements. His figures are stripped of any figural function. He creates circular, organic forms with odd futuristic extensions and adds interior lines that carry a sensation of carved architectural past. Hull works with oil, wax and charcoal, as well as a recent use of Crayola crayons. "I have been doing drawings for the last couple of years," he notes over email, "drawings using crayons, Crayola crayons, and using charcoal. I have been waiting to find a way to combine the color of the Crayons with the rhythmic nature of the charcoal. I think I found the way."

And indeed, Hull's new paintings of exuberant color embody the sensation and rhythm of charcoal. On view at Carrie Secrist Gallery is Oh. The large and radiant painting bears a sensuous quality of pleasure. "It's more like the charcoal drawings in its looping rhythms," Hull notes. "It's more the internal body, with a central 'figure' generating a kind of energy, probably sexual, possibly an orgasm."

Published: August 07, 2007
Issue: Fall 2007