John Hrehov At Denise Bibro - New York
by Gerrit Henry


John Hrehov review in Art In America.

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John Hrehov's new work constitutes a considerable advance over his last show in New York, at Bibro in 2000. There, a "fearful symmetry," as William Blake phrased it, presided. Suburban Indiana housescapes and interiors (Hrehov teaches at Purdue University) doubled in or folded out on themselves with an almost M.C. Escher-like regularity, and the subject matter--the pleasures and perils of small-town existence--seemed frail.

Hrehov today has not shaken off all such fanatical formalism, nor has his subject matter changed much. But there is a new tone and attitude to it all--a new wit, a new symbolism, even a new poetry. The wit? Hrehov smiles crookedly at all he surveys; his attitude is both fond and critical, which makes for considerable amounts of irony. The symbolism? We only have to take in an oil on canvas on panel like Passing Through, with its huge blue jay winging its way across a bay of three partially opened windows against a brilliant red sunset sky, punctuated by dark green trees, to realize that something is going on here beyond the literal. The poetry resides just generally in the new suggestiveness of the work.


Passing Through, a painting by John Hrehov.

Passing Through. Oil on Canvas Panel, 2000.

A good example is Garage Sale. Squarely at canvas center sits a green-shingled garage, unattached to any house, bordered on either side by towering firs and crowned with a green-and-gray-tiled roof surmounted by an angel-with-trumpet weather vane. The contents of the garage sale--a coiled hose, a clock, ginger jar lamps, a rack of high-colored clothes--are something short of spectacular. Maybe there are "finds" here--or perhaps the seeming paucity of them is Hrehov's sly commentary on the futility of material dreams.


Garage Sale, a painting by John Hrehov.

Garage Sale. Oil on Canvas Panel, 2000-2001.

Symbolism in a Christian vein comes to us in The Sign of Jonah. Huge sunflowers are seen growing out of a dark-green two-handled vase; within the vase (the belly of the fish that swallowed Jonah?) floats an upside-down, sarcophagus-like figure caught within seaweedy growths. Jonah was of course eventually disgorged; the "sign of Jonah" may have to do with Jesus's description of Jonah as a prefiguration of his own death and resurrection. (Thus, the radiant sunflowers?) Whatever the meaning, the painting is a small knockout, a triumph of the allegorical imagination.


The Sign Of Jonah, a painting by John Hrehov.

The Sign Of Jonah. Oil on Canvas Panel, 2001.

Perhaps Hrehov's most fully realized imaginative venture was to be found in a 27-by-33 inch canvas titled Insomnia. Between two pulled-back maroon curtains, on a maroon settee, sits an Ingreseque woman--Insomnia herself, perhaps--in a flowing purple gown. She regards the full moon overhead, the deep blue night, a field of pumpkins just outside her window. Here, wit is abandoned for sheer, contemplative magic.


Insomnia, a painting by John Hrehov.

Insomnia. Oil on Canvas Panel, 2001.


This article originally appeared in the January, 2003 issue of Art In America.