Artist’s work brings viewers ‘Somewhere in the Half Light’

Will Hutnick

In a single image, Will Hutnick’s work invokes landscapes, dream worlds, topographical maps and outer space.

Or not. Each piece is subjective, according to Hutnick, 34. “Once it’s out of my system ... it’s sort of out of my control,” he said. “It’s like the piece lives on because viewers ... bring their own thing to the table. ... It’s able to move and flex and grow.”

Hutnick’s recent body of work, titled “Somewhere in the Half Light” after Rostam Batmanglij’s 2017 alternative-pop album, is on display at One River School of Art + Design in Hartsdale through April 27.

The 13 pieces, some as large as 84 by 66 inches, are tactile and kaleidoscopic. By manipulating acrylic paint, among other media, fractal patterns emerge. Optical illusions form. Images recede and protrude from the canvas.

Hutnick relies on alternative painting methods, including pouring paint, using rollers and other printmaking tools in what he describes as a “call and response” with each piece.

“My studio sometimes feels like a little lab,” he said, “where I have everything in plain sight and visible and I can go to town, throw a bunch of materials together and see what happens.”

Works like Hutnick’s “Entrance Stone” marry disparate colors and textures — ridges bordering weblike veins, hot pinks against turquoise. In his Wassaic studio, he lets the works evolve organically, infusing spray paint, colored pencils, fused crayons, markers, tape, sand, graphite and ink. He presses and pulls various painted surfaces, creating ghostlike images that often appear stenciled or digitally derived, inspired by his early affinity for printmaking.

“To me, it’s very [much] ordered chaos,” said One River director Jennifer Berry. “There’s a balance to it. ... You’re almost excavating to find these layers of things.”

Aron Johnston, the school’s director of education, said Hutnick’s work invokes names like Eadweard Muybridge, Andy Warhol and Wangechi Mutu. Several pieces feel “otherworldly,” he said, “kind of like you’re stuck in an asteroid belt. You just feel like you’re inside of something.”

Hutnick is currently the residency director at The Wassaic Project, a year-round artist residency program, and co-director of Ortega y Gasset Projects in Brooklyn. He earned his B.A. from Providence College and his M.F.A. from Pratt Institute, where he began seriously exploring alternative painting.

Hutnick described himself as “kind of the facilitator and the witness to this thing happening. There’s a little loss of control there, even if I’m controlling the parameters. ... I really like that it seems I’m less of a creator and more of a facilitator.”

Hutnick has also studied cello since age 7, making music “another language in my tool belt.” His musicianship surfaces in his visual works in his care for tone and structure.

The title of Hutnick’s One River collection is an homage to “Half Light,” the debut solo album by composer and multi-instrumentalist Batmanglij, a former member of Vampire Weekend. After its release, Hutnick grew obsessed with the album’s lush melodies and unique experimentation. He also drew inspiration from Batmanglij as a fellow queer artist, which he said manifests in the music in subtle ways — dissonant tones, lyrics about navigating spaces.

“There’s a lot of friction there,” Hutnick said, “which I think is really exciting. ... For me, it’s sometimes hard to articulate that, but that’s where I want my paintings to exist, in this space of potentiality, of vibration.”

Hutnick admitted he’s still not sure whether his queer identity is pertinent to his work, “or if my work is queer just because I am.”

“It’s something that I’m not completely comfortable with,” he said, “which is probably why I know it’s important.”

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