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'Ardent Heart' opens as poetic portraiture

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007

Up now at moxie DaDA gallery on the North Side, abstract painter Joshua Hogan's solo exhibition "Ardent Heart" is a tour de force of rich texture, sublime color and sheer poetry.

Pittsburgh art cognoscenti are well aware of Hogan and his work. As co-owner of BoxHeart Gallery in Bloomfield, his work is constantly on display there. And among the art crowd, many an artist has come to him and his wife, Nicole Capozzi, to see if they would be open to exhibiting his or her works there.

But ever since Christine Whispell opened moxie DaDA gallery across the street a few years back, it was Whispell and her fellow gallery mates Grant Bobitski and Matt Indovina who wanted to show Hogan's work in their gallery.

The trio has since moved the gallery to the Mexican War Streets section of North Side, almost a year ago, and Hogan couldn't be happier now that his show is up, hung on the raw brick walls of what is believed to be Pittsburgh's oldest extant firehouse, which was built in 1877.

"I've always liked working with those guys," says Hogan, who has produced juried exhibitions with the moxie DaDA group before. "So, when they moved to the North Side, I thought this would be even better. I will have a chance for my work to be exposed to a new audience, and I especially like seeing my work hung on the brick walls."

That last part seems a fitting comment for an artist whose palate tends toward delightful combinations of burnt umber and raw sienna. Having a consistent feel, Hogan's work since he graduated from the art education program at Carlow College in 1996 has moved at a glacier's pace.

But that's certainly all right with him. "Everything feels like it is progressing nicely -- adding a little bit here and there without taking too big of a jump," Hogan says.

That's not to say Hogan isn't a prolific painter. On the contrary, all of the 19 works on display here have been painted within the past six months.

Viewed by the artist as a series, they were somewhat inspired by the novel "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce (1882-1941). The semi-autobiographical work was published in 1916 and chronicles the young life of the fictional character Stephen Dedalus, an obvious stand-in for the author, as he blossoms from university student to full-fledged artist, rebelling against his father's wishes to fulfill his dreams.

"The way he wrote that book has a lot of relevance to the way I paint," Hogan says. "There's a lot of stream of consciousness. Plus, my own memories came up as I was painting."

At 35, the Bloomfield resident approaches painting as adeptly as any wunderkind might. For example, when describing his creative process, he says he paints as a "rebellion from authority."

"It is the attempt to capture the immutable intrinsic qualities of feeling," he writes in a statement. "In a stream of consciousness, I allow spontaneity, irrationality and freedom of form to manifest, a result that mimics my mood and mind."

A quick glance at the larger works in the show, and you might think for a moment that action painting is making a comeback. Examine them more closely, however, and you'll soon realize that Hogan only appears to be painting in the let-it-all-hang-out style of abstract expressionism.

While his way of working the surface allows for accidents like drips and splashes, he equally exploits the sensuous potential of the fully loaded brush. Hogan's paintings are not only controlled but directed toward a goal, the overall establishment or, rather, domination of the picture plane.

"There's a lot of push and pull when I'm working on the pieces, until it feels like I have reached a balance," Hogan says.

For example, in "That With the Power to Move," liquid lines whip from a central, vessel-like, shape like tendrils off of an anemone. But Hogan has chosen to weave the lines in and out of thick daubs of heavily textured oil paint.

The effect is a cumulative one in which visual harmonies celebrate the idea of presence. With broad, sweeping gestures rippling horizontally across the surface, Hogan visually reflects his inner response to Joyce, as well as his own experience.

Although it's hard to pinpoint Hogan's artistic influences, two smaller pieces allude to some art-world inspiration.

"My Waterlilies" and "Their Promise of Close Embraces," specifically, are hauntingly reminiscent of the work of French impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926).

"I'm a big fan of Monet still," Hogan says. "He's one of my favorite artists. I'll just stare at his waterlilies, and just seeing the paint marks that he put down blows me away."

In its own way, Hogan's work will likely blow you away, too. Additional Information:

'Ardent Heart: A Portrait of the Artist, as a Painter'

What: New paintings by Josh Hogan

When: Through Dec. 1. Hours: noon-8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; noon-5 p.m. Sundays

Where: moxie DaDA , 1416 Arch St., North Side

Details: 412-682-0348

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