A Family Matter, Alas

The art committee of the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon has sponsored good and sometimes not-so-good exhibitions since early in 2010. Now the committee has latched onto what must have seemed like a clever idea: Show the work of artists from the Hotchkiss family that gave both money and name to the institution. So comes “Hotchkiss at Hotchkiss,” a mishmash of styles and quality, though little of the latter. The paterfamilias of this arty band, DeWolfe Hotchkiss, library Hotchkiss’s second cousin, was an advertising art director with BBD&O and best known for the Wisk “ring around the collar” ads. He also painted. A lot. Landscapes, old barns and bridges from around Sherman and Gaylordsville found their way into his oils and water colors. Most of the work is flat and derivative. But a few pieces, usually somewhat abstract with thick paint and broader brush work, surprise by being really good. They stand out as if by another, better artist. The oldest son, Ben, is the hardest to understand, Continued from page 6and yet, at the moment, the one garnering attention. A painter of weird, mystical abstracts made of thousands of tiny geometric shapes and dozens of bright colors, he has achieved some success in New York City Outsider Art fairs. (Outsider refers to untrained, sui generis artists, often eccentric and largely uninfluenced by trends. Some have became famous: Grandma Moses, Henry Darger, Thornton Dial.) Too many of Ben’s pictures in this show lack structure or form. Shapes simply meander around the canvas, board or paper — inchoate with little impact. Then, like his father, he surprises: A work of substance startles you with a real play of color, form and even narrative, albeit abstract. Joel the middle son, designs mobiles and stabiles of metal and stretched fabric. But these are not works for museums. Instead he founded and owns a West Stockbridge company that manufactures and sells inexpensive mobiles based on themes and shapes and materials. While perfectly pleasant — who isn’t charmed by shapes that move in the slightest draft of air — Calders they aren’t. And the metal piece with its obvious tuna cans – or perhaps cat food cans, as one library patron suggested – are downright ugly. Finally there is the youngest boy, JD. After years of working in the comics industry — he helped illustrate Super Boy and Green Arrow — he began producing pop paintings and representing other artists. His work has the sensibility of Mad Magazine crossed with hip-hop, but with none of the originality or wit. “Horny Marilyn,” for example, is a sophomoric sampling of a Warhol “Marilyn Monroe” in orange with a set of real antlers attached above her head. Get it? “Hotchkiss at Hotchkiss,” runs through July 30 at the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon, 10 Upper Main St. For information, call 860-364-5041.

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