Reyes and Davis exhibit: Jeff Huntington is a man of many faces

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 18, 2010

There are only eight portraits by Jeff Huntington on view in the Annapolis painter's latest exhibition at Reyes and Davis gallery. There are, however, 21 faces. Exquisitely rendered from photographs, each work represents multiple views of a single subject. Huntington's sitters are, for the most part, his family: the 39-year-old artist's father, his young nieces and nephews, and the children of friends. A few of the artworks are ordinary triptychs: three canvases hanging side by side, reflecting three faces and three moods.

Most of the works in the show, however, have a bit more going on.

"Double," for example, depicts a girl with two heads sprouting from a single neck. So does "Reflex," a single canvas that shows the same child with two faces looking in opposite directions, like the Roman god Janus. The one on the right is laughing; another, pokerfaced, looks left. The girl in "Dazzle" is completely normal, except for her four eyes. At first glance, it looks like a mistake in printing registration, as if two color newspaper plates had slipped on the presses, leaving an extra pair of peepers.

"Snip and Tuck" and "Rift" are even more unsettling. The girl in the former picture has five eyes, three noses and three mouths. The one in the latter has the requisite number of organs, but they're all out of alignment. One eye is higher than another; the mouth is split down the middle, like a cleft lip. Her nostrils don't line up.

Like Marcel Duchamp's infamous "Nude Descending a Staircase," these are time-based works, showing movement and change, often within a single frame. They have more in common with film than with photography. How can you capture any one person's essence in a single image, they ask, when the face is so changeable, when every moment so fleeting?

But they also ask another, more troubling question: What is the nature of perception itself? Perhaps it isn't merely our faces that change, from one moment to the next, but the eyes -- the mind's eyes -- that we see each other with.

Titled "Plaques and Tangles" -- a reference to the telltale jumble of proteins that build up on the neurons of the brain of a person with Alzheimer's disease -- Huntington's show is less about how we're seen than how we're remembered.

It's about appearances, to be sure: those evanescent expressions that we hold onto in photo albums, and our own memories. Huntington captures them perfectly, rendered faces with a virtuosic brush. But deep down, his art isn't about virtuosity or perfection. It's about the limits and the failings of consciousness.

JEFF HUNTINGTON: PLAQUES AND TANGLES Through July 10 at Reyes and Davis, 923 F St. NW, Suite 302. 202-255-5050. Hours: Open Wednesday-Friday 1 to 6 p.m.; Saturdays 1 to 5 p.m. Admission: Free.

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