The figure -- of Christ crucified -- is from a sketch by Rubens. The color pencil drawing -- by Hilary Daley-Hynes -- is in the group show called "Hermetics" now at the Anton Gallery, 415 East Capitol St. For a picture made in Washington it is -- as is the show itself -- curiously arcane.
The god-man hangs upon a cross of layered oppositions. The staff in his left hand bears the symbol for Uranus, a sign of revelation; the arrow in his left suggests logic's linearities. He is modern yet antique. Much about his image -- its easy commerce with the past, its clarity, its crispness -- is distinctly Washingtonian. Hard-edge Color paintings hang behind him on the wall. What is wholly unexpected is its abstruse iconography. The word "Hermetic" suggests magic, the mysterious, the occult. Private symbol systems wind throughout this show.
Hilary Daley-Hynes, 39, (who called himself Hilary Hynes before he married Kathy Daley) is a conservator who has often restored paintings for Washington museums. He is an astrologer as well. Once an abstract painter, an admirer of Morris Louis and a student of Tom Downing's, he first showed his shaped canvases at the Henri Gallery in 1968. But his art has greatly changed. Where other local painters, in keeping with the theories then so much in vogue, saw Washington Color Paintings as intentionally contentless, he always saw much more. He even then would speak of the mysteries concealed behind Louis' "Veils," and of the "opening vessels" at the centers of Louis' "Unfurleds."
The "Hermetics" exhibition is a group show with an argument: Those veils have been lifted, Tom Downing's dots have opened, Gene Davis' stripes have parted. Since Color Painting's heyday, as this show reminds us, a local art that's open to mysteries, to clues, to private symbol systems has increasingly emerged.
The show was organized by Washington's J.W. Mahoney, an artist and a critic -- and an astrologer as well -- who, like Daley-Hynes, is thoroughly familiar with the city's art museums. Mahoney is employed as the assistant registrar for the permanent collection at the Hirshhorn Museum. The other artists represented are Brian Kavanagh (who also works at the Hirshhorn), Robin Rose and Simon Gouverneur.
Their pictures do not look alike: Those of Daley-Hynes are sunny; Kavanagh's have a rough-and-ratty New York look; Mahoney's small collages are symmetrical and elegant; Gouverneur's rely on triangles and disks, on strict grids and geometries; and Rose, whose surfaces are impeccable, portrays light-filled atmospheres. Yet there is much they share. All five employ symbols. All five hint at secrets. One tends to read their pictures as one would some abstruse text.
This show is filled with footnotes, references and clues. Daley-Hynes takes symbols from the zodiac and images from paintings by Ingres and Boucher. Mahoney's little pictures direct the viewer's mind to the icebergs of Antarctica, to the warriors of Japan, to Michelangelo and Du rer. Kavanagh pays homage to thinkers he admires; the glasses worn by Mondrian, the profile of Marcel Duchamp, and books by Yeats, Nabokov and Eliot appear in his art. Gouverneur's crisp pictures, though they look much like abstractions, are filled with scorpions and vines, with messages the viewer receives but can't decipher.
The trapezoidal shape that juts into the space of Robin Rose's pictures floats there like some theater stage. But it is the space around it, the atmosphere it penetrates, that is the subject of his art. At times that space is icy, blue, as if it were positioned underneath the sea. Or its wavy aura suggests wind and sky, or it writhes in redness as if it were aflame.
Most of Washington's painters still tend to shy away from Expressionism's jaggedness. Rarely do we see here images of nightmares dredged up from the deep. Daley-Hynes, evoking the writings of Jung, says that while Expressionist imagery is rooted in the personal unconscious, the symbol systems here employed are grounded in a collective unconscious. These artists do not scribble. They paint no howling dogs. They prefer to refer us to the zodiac, the library, the museum and the sea. Theirs are pictures one must read.
The show is a mixed bag. Not all its works are beautiful, impressive or successful. But together they suggest how art here is evolving. "Hermetics" closes Oct. 9.