There's a message in Hrehov's medium
Louisville Courier-Journal June 15, 1997
by Diane Heilenman


John Hrehov review in Louisville Courier-Journal.


Nothing is as simple as it may seem in paintings by John Hrehov. In a seductively glowing little painting called "Last Light," for instance, the litter of the forest floor combines with the litter of an irresponsible soft-drink consumer to make an oddly pretty image of green glass and scarlet maple leaves.

The work by Hrehov, of Fort Wayne, Ind., pulls multiple meaning from the composition. The empty bottle of Fresca that lies among nature's debris has a Monarch butterfly perched on it.

One of 14 drawings and paintings on view at Louisville's Yvonne Rapp Gallery through Wednesday, "Last Light" reflects the bittersweet sadness of fall. This first simple layer of meaning is quickly followed by other insights. The work is about the last light of today a carpe diem sort of image but also about the closing of a season and the need to move on. A butterfly's vacation is over. Monarchs migrate to Mexico in winter.

Or, perhaps, the work suggests, it will be the last light of human occupation if we don't clean up our act and take care of the Earth.

That one can draw so many conclusions from maple leaves and a soda-pop bottle proves the point that; a painting is constructed long before it is painted.

The magic of Hrehov's realism has little to do with serendipity or self-indulgent playing in paint. It is all about the careful setup of a still life, the idea, which then is sketched and later enlarged on canvas for a painting.

An interest in detail and this long process may be why Hrehov's works have a touch of the stylized stiffness used by Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler. Hodler also used realism based on elaborate drawings as a vehicle for his symbolism about the human condition and Swiss nationalism.

Hrehov frequently uses toys and their static-yet-lifelike quality as his subjects. This occurs in "The Prodigal Son," where a figure throws grain to hogs in a metaphor about strewing wealth before swine or squandering one's inheritance. A statuette of a deer seems to crouch hidden from the shining moon, sheltered under a protective drape.

Hrehov's work is called "allegorical realism" in an article in the June issue of American Artist magazine. The allegories can be ambiguous and hard to puzzle out, though Hrehov gives many clues, with biblical references and art historical puns.

Once you are aware that you can profit by spending a little time looking, it's relatively easy to gain the visual equivalent of a dialogue.

The exhibition is called "Object Lessons," in yet another double-entendre.

Hrehov gives a free, 6:30 p.m. "Closing Lecture" Wednesday about "The Making of a Painting." The gallery is at 2117 Frankfort Ave. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.


This review of John Hrehov's exhibit at the Yvonne Rapp Gallery was originally published in the June 12, 1997 edition of The Louisville Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY.