Measuring the Universe:
New Work by John Hylton at Piante
For past exhibitions, Santa Cruz-based artist John Hylton has drawn inspiration from some seemingly disparate sources (modern astrophysics, Norse mythology, Ovid, and the magical realism of Salman Rushdie, just to name a few). Despite this broad range of motivations, Hylton has used them to grapple with the same big questions: How do we use science, mythologies, and literature as means to place ourselves in, and to comprehend, the vastness of the universe? How does our relationship to these stories, factual or fictitious, determine how we see ourselves and how we interact with the external world? How does it all impact the stories we tell ourselves, and others? Hylton continues his explorations with new sculptural installations showing this month at Piante gallery.
While Hylton, a voracious reader, often finds starting points for his work between the covers of books, this time the creative spark came from an object embodying the same intermingling of cosmic and intimately human that he often reacts to in texts. "The whole thing started off with me seeing this photo of the Blanchard Bone," Hylton explained. A 30,000-year-old fragment covered with carvings, the Blanchard Bone may be one of the earliest known representations of lunar cycles. "That just kind of set me off dreaming about measuring the cosmos," he said. Hylton is himself a kind of storyteller and his visual work incorporates this narrative impulse. His new installations are, in a sense, illustrations of the tales he tells himself as he ponders those big questions about humanity, the cosmos, and how we attempt to measure the infinite.
Hylton's Piante exhibition will feature three large installations, one in each of the gallery's three rooms. Described fittingly by Hylton as "hybrids," the installations feature a wide range of materials and techniques including paintings (several as large as 9'x12' and representing star tracks, maps of dark matter, and celestial worm holes), large carved wood human figures (hauntingly spare, yet infinitely expressive), a flock of ceramic ravens, and even basket forms. The paintings function as settings for the characters and the stories that are suggested. The result is an exhibition that feels very much like walking through the chapters of a book: An abstract narrative that feels at times familiar and also utterly mysterious, a story with a beginning and ending we may be unable to fully comprehend but one that we are undeniably part of.