Punto di vista: Hugo Crothwaite – Word Play


Jennifer DeCarlo | Downtown News Guest Columnist

This show marks Noel-Baza’s celebration of Hugo Crosthwaite’s selection for inclusion in the 2013 California Pacific Triennial at the Orange County Museum of Art – and is a must-see.

"Death of Agros" 1999, charcoal & graphite on canvas, 48 x 48 (Courtesy Noel-Baza Fine Art)

“Death of Agros” 1999, charcoal & graphite on canvas, 48 x 48 (Courtesy Noel-Baza Fine Art)

To say the show works like a retrospective would be going too far, but the works included span time and reveal process and evolution. Two early paintings from the 1990s are included, as are paintings from 2009 that were made after a move (to NYC), and finally a selection of recent sketchbook drawings.

The work of Crosthwaite is unmistakable and unique, and like Rodin’s Gates of Hell, it takes us to the edge of the abyss. Figures and flesh tangle, bodies twist and morph to moments unimaginable. His favorite implements, graphite and charcoal, seem like liquid and with them he melds academically rendered drawings and the visual language of street art. Handling, subject, and at times scale of the work act to compress the ages.

The figures in the 1990s paintings are pretty, even regal, and appear to us as statuesque Greco-Roman idols disappearing in the haze.

Though much more tame than current works, we find that even in these pieces there was a darkness – one features a maimed youth who leans on crutches.

The work has at times achieved massive scale and grand narrative into what has amounted in battles between good and evil, as in Death March, a commission for the 2012 exhibition Morbid Curiosity – The Richard Harris Collection at the Chicago Cultural Center – often match the monumentality of size. The work was a graphite, charcoal, and white ink drawing on archival museum board and reached 25 x 10 feet (not on view).

"Scream" 2009, graphite, charcoal on canvas, 24 x 24 (Courtesy Noel-Baza Fine Art)

“Scream” 2009, graphite, charcoal on canvas, 24 x 24 (Courtesy Noel-Baza Fine Art)

Works like this prove that the artist has entered into a territory that could be described as contemporary genre painting.  Crosthwaite’s are the stories, warnings, truths, and myths, even nightmares of our time.

In Abu Ghraib we find two hooded figures and a strange cartoonish smiley face, and it is hard not to think of the military scandal; in Stock a shackled youth may make us think to the most recent crash of the stock market, so a cynical wit charges the work. Other pieces are harder to tie to specifics, but their ambiguity makes them all the more fluid.

We make connections to our own daily narratives – they may remind us of the homeless woman we passed on the street, the story of a murder, a fire, a peep-show, or a political joke.

While much of the work on view are small drawings torn from notepads, there is enough meat to dig into and we leave as satisfied as we do curious for what next big piece will come from this work and these studies.


Noel-Baza Fine Art

2165 India St.

Little Italy

Through August 10


Jennifer DeCarlo is the owner/director of jdc Fine Art, a contemporary photography gallery in Little Italy.  She can be reached at


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