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what: Abstract paintings by Dana Hatchett

when: Through Oct. 6

Where: Medaille College, Alumni Room, 18 Agassiz Circle

Admission: Free

Info: 884-3281< A critic writing in the 1960s said that attempting to analyze the lovely watery veils of color that make up a painting by Morris Louis (1912-1962) was like trying to analyze a bird's song. The painting, like the song, was simply there in all its lyrical glory, a precious thing in the world that shouldn't be messed with.

Indeed, color stain painting (as it came to be labeled), with its gorgeous spreads of poured liquid paint and its many beguiling accidental effects, was sometimes far too precious. From its beginnings in 1952 with Helen Frankenthaler -- who keyed on stain painting in Jackson Pollock -- to its apogee with Louis a few years later, it was always an ephemeral art that seemed in danger of collapsing under its own slight weight.

In a series of works on paper at Medaille College, Dana Hatchett resurrects the now-classic pour techniques. An artist who has in the past worked with fairly thick paint structured by geometry, Hatchett seems an unlikely candidate to carry on this tradition. His earlier work depended on weight and density, on the sense that an object existed somewhere behind his apparently abstract shapes. It was like imagining a bricklayer throwing over his craft and becoming a balloonist.

Hatchett has not tossed out his entire former self with these new works, however. Keeping with the basic premise of poured painting, he introduces variants on the flood-and-flow technique that keeps the innate lyricism in check. Most noticeably, he steers clear of spectacular color effects. The paintings tend toward black and brown with eruptions of purer color bursting through here and there.

As important, Hatchett's paintings often clot up in the middle because of layers of thick, shiny, almost gooey-looking pigment. It turns out Hatchett is not really interested in the airy effects that gave Louis' painting their delightful buoyancy. He wants to give density and tactile strength to a technique that lived by its quick-silver effects. The result is a sense of a weighty something hovering in space, like a cosmos congealing before our eyes or odd biological forms swimming around their slippery world. It turns out we have been fooled: These are less bird's songs and more like hippos' soggy bellows.

In their more unsavory form these effects result in "Pour," a nasty pea-green work that has bodily associations no one likes to think about. It has a frank unattractiveness to it, though, that counters the excessive lyricism of the style.

"Molt," by contrast, is conventionally dramatic. Its almost iridescent central form has something of an old-master glow, like a piece of armor set within an engulfing black interior.

A traditional streak, in fact, runs through much of the work. The artist always centers the activity of the pour so that all the forms flow and spill outward from a central core. This centering of the image is a very old and venerable painter's ploy. A portrait painter puts the king in the middle and saves the edges for secondary stuff like the royal dog.

Hatchett makes an issue out of pulling the eye inward. He actively forces the attention on oval interiors populated by morphing shapes on the verge of turning into something recognizable.

Is this progress or not? Hatchett's work is adroitly composed and he angles intelligently between opposing painting styles. The danger comes in the form of a Rorschach "temptation" -- the tendency to see within these accidents of pigment bizarre animals with double snouts and crazy peanut-brittle rock formations.

But no doubt Hatchett does offer a viable, more hard-headed take on poured painting. It is poured painting for tougher times when simple, unfettered emotions are much harder to come by.


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