mark hosford: Drips, Drops, and Inkblots

Mark Hosford’s work has always embraced the dark aesthetic found in the visual staples of the counterculture. Growing up in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas the artist was shaped by the images he found on punk rock album covers, underground comics, horror movies as well as the extensive collection of prints and drawings at the nearby Nelson-Atkins Museum. His studio practice also mixes and mingles his love for the campy/macabre drawings used by bands like Black Flag and Morbid Angel. His fascination with the Rankin/Bass stop-motion-animation characters like Heat Miser and Abominable Snow Monster was another factor in shaping an artistic sensibility that would follow him into adulthood. (The artist describes growing up as a “nerdy, weird kid”1 in the Midwest and adopting the punk tropes as a way of becoming a part of a larger, identifiable group of misfit youths.) Hosford also blends the fantasy and social commentary he discovered in old episodes of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone and in the Francisco Goya and Japanese woodblock prints at the Nelson-Atkins. And like Goya and Serling before him, Hosford creates a distorted, funhouse mirror through which we might examine ourselves and our society.

Like a carnivorous plant uses its glistening nectar to lure prey, Hosford’s seductive images draw the viewer in. The well-crafted images are rendered with crisp edges, subtle transitions in color and tone, and the most delicate quality of line. Part of what makes the images so unnerving is the cool, considered way in which they are made. Comprised of many layers, his screenprints are slowly and methodically produced. (For example, Polycephaly has more than twenty color layers, each done with a different screen.) The deft handling of the materials serves as the perfect foil to the striking nature of his images that are made up of a gooey, grisly mash-up of nightmare and LSD-induced hallucination. The confrontational images are somehow delightfully funny and terrifyingly bleak at the same moment. In Hello Satan (2010) we see Sanrio’s ubiquitous Hello Kitty character wearing what appears to be a demon-lord-flesh-suit while holding a spear with a skull impaled on the tip. In Neptune (2010) we see the underwater god’s decapitated head complete with receding hair-line and oozing, zombie-green skin enveloped by blue-green serpents.

At the heart of Hosford’s exhibition for Clough-Hanson Gallery is a series of extraordinary drawings based on the original ten inkblots that comprise psychiatrist Hermann Rorschach’s famous tests. While in the end these drawings share visual affinities with the screenprints, the starting point and working method are dramatically different. The artist lightly prints the inkblot onto sheets of white drawing paper and then, staying true to the good doctor’s method, Hosford responds by drawing the first images that came to mind. The only limitation for the artist is to stay within the boundary of the blot. Having providing himself with a spring-board for stream of consciousness drawing, the parameters are wide-open. This allows him to make spontaneous, split-second decisions. The method constantly forces the artist to invent new patterns and surfaces to describe what he finds in the amorphous drips. These drawings are like time capsules, showing exactly what he saw in those chance-generated splotches during those particular days in the studio. One delight in viewing these drawings is trying to unravel and decipher what we see in the artist’s vision, the same way we might try to explain the complex web of visual associations in a dizzyingly elaborate dream to our own psychoanalysts.

By employing a visual language rooted in the graphics of pop-culture Mark Hosford’s rich and challenging work provides a glimpse into the ruminations of a particular and peculiar mind. His images often present mad tangles of fears and desires, revealing an overwhelming explosion of visual parts that are at once playful and troubling. While the viewer may be reluctant to examine or expose the irrational fears and disturbing visions that populate the dark recesses of his or her individual subconscious, the artist’s revelations examine the dark side of the common human experience to provide a stark and honest assessment.

Hamlett Dobbins
Director, Clough-Hanson Gallery


1 In a conversation with the artist in his studio on November 29, 2011.

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