Charcoal Exhibit Posters
With essay by Audrey Ushenko


Poster from John Hrehov Charcoal Exhibit at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne in 2011.

Poster from John Hrehov Charcoal Exhibit at Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne in 2011. With essay by Audrey Ushenko.

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John Hrehov: Disegno Eterno1

John Hrehov is a Mannerist de nos jours2. Exploiting realist conventions detached from direct perception he presents, compressed within a framework of icy control, the roiling spiritual unrest inherent to life in the contemporary world.

Hrehov is known for his eerie, meticulous paintings on board, but works on paper are essential to the making of his world. He develops his vision by oscillating between two poles, the Romantic and the Apocalyptic. He made his début with spooky little nocturnes in oil, alternating with colored pencil drawings of obsessive finish.

Following this was a series of still life paintings of toys, holiday ornaments, or objects d’art. The objects, bland, vacuous or tacky, detritus of popular culture or the sad trappings of festivals (in themselves a cry for help) might seem to constitute a manifestation of Pop art. But, in common with his fellow Midwesterners, the artists of Momentum3 (June Leaf, George Cohen, Cosmo Compoli,) these objects possess, or are possessed by a portentous or ominous character. Sometimes the banal opens the door to the demonic – but not always. Some of Hrehov’s still lives take on a transcendent character. Both infusions, infernal or eternal, are achieved through a dazzling sense of actuality. This actuality comes from distilling conventions of representation commonly accepted as constituting "what things really look like" and detaching them from any realistic context. There is no real light, specific weather or time of day in Hrehov paintings now. They may be set at Christmas or Easter, be ostensibly nocturnal or diurnal, but their complete removal from immediate perception of transitory effects gives time and season a liturgical character.

Gradually, the compacted still lives give way to more ambitious projects: geometrized Hopper-like interiors and suburban street scenes. These prosaic environments are unsettled by some strange color creating not an illusion of real light but the illusion that the painting is generating its' own, thus implying a shimmering reality which lies behind the ennui of provincial daily life, tantalizing just beyond the viewer’s grasp. This new phase was heralded by darker, rather threatening narrative drawings.

The latest phase is unsurprisingly heralded by a series of charcoal drawings, masterly in their handling of the medium, and richer than any that went before. Gone is any suggestion of photo-realism. Equally, any tinge of the abrasively schematic is likewise absent. These drawings are notable for the full development of a code of patternistic detail which contains and organizes the impacted imagery as easily and compelling as the music contains the narrative of a folk song. And these are ballads – poignant, primal, incantatory, narrative clearly presented in a landscape sufficiently concentrated to be transferable to anybodies daily reality and sufficiently evocative to be transferred.

Hrehov has always had a propensity for symmetry. Now it has become a major element, like a form of verse. In Gate, identical segments of two barrack – like buildings part to reveal a narrow space in which a Casper David Fredericks tree dissolves in light. So pared down is the imagery that the lattice of the plain wire gate joining these structures, light against dark changing to dark against light, becomes a major event.

The Visit also is absolutely symmetrical except for the lady and the young girl (Elizabeth and Mary?) emphasized by their deviation even through dwarfed by the completely geometrized maze which forms the enclosed garden. This drawing has the plan sent charm of our concept of the formality of a bygone era. It contains the mystery of times past about which, however much we may know, we know nothing, as Elizabeth Bowen said, we can only live now.

Underpass, the grungy structure exploding in a blossoming tree chronicles a simple wonder experienced by all.

Great with Child escapes the contemporary cliché of art as dark and shocking. Mary and Joseph plod along a modern street under a looming revival Tudorbethan Mansion: the straight forward anachronism of a Christmas Carol. Is the big house the Inn, turning them away? No – the prosperous pious are also vouchsafed their moment. A hopeful friendly vision – perhaps this is what it was all leading up to, after all?


Audrey Ushenko, N.A.
Fall, 2011


1: Disegno Eterno: Drawing Eternal
2: de nos jours: Of our time
3: Momentum: Chicago Art Group,1948-1964