Arts Magazine1979




by Philip Rand-Smith


David Haxton creates photographs that deal with how light and color perceptually order our most fundamental observations of what is and what isn't. These "facts" are not presented in an empirical fashion but are instead gently and somewhat decoratively alluded to in pairs of photographs depicting a "before and after" situation of lights on/lights off. The photographs are of casually yet carefully arranged compositions with large sheets of colored paper and tubes of fluorescent light.

Haxton's work is created and produced exclusively through substantial amounts of technology, which he somehow manages to override, and emerges with a very human and tactile quality to his image. This may be because the photographs are constructed from a painterly aesthetic. The abstract paper compositions are rich in allusions to and connotations of the work and workings of the early modern masters. If one bothers to become academic and analytical, the photographs can easily be seen in terms of their description of space, line, and color.

What, however, is so striking about Haxton's work is that through such formal concerns emerges a wonderful romantic/emotional sensibility that, as is true, or should be true of all good or great painting, cannot be specifically described. Clearly, one can comprehend the difference in color and arrangement that can be achieved through the manipulation of positional lighting. But more importantly, beyond such a course in lighting techniques are the subtle moods that are evoked from lit paper. These seem to be of a gentle nature ranging from quiet to strong. Working with such a loaded art medium as this fluorescent lighting, Haxton seems able to soften its technological glare; what emerges is similar to the sensibility of a Japanese paper lantern which is simultaneously both beautiful and intelligent in design and effect.

These photographic sets or arrangements originated as a by-product of Haxton's film work. One would suspect that with such an incestuous working relationship of still and moving film that the results would be similar, if not closely related. As with the still work, the films also present a final composition based on the illusions of description by light. The films, not by the nature of the medium, are process oriented in that one witnesses the linear creation of the final image. One main difference, then, is that in the films the image is arrived at in time rather than merely being frontally and formally presented. Although Haxton does create a sense of theatrical painting in the films which is immediately digested and is all very interesting, the still photographs seem to have in their favor a more contemplative air which does not rely on action and wizardry but more on thoughtful consideration as to what is being seen and what will be seen.

The fact that this is yet another visual artist working with the medium of photography never seems to be suggested or sensed in Haxton's work. Even though Haxton's major concerns of light and color are the most primary and immediate aspects of photography itself, there remains something so strikingly unphotographic about his work. One is attracted, even seduced, into a completely visual experience with little or no concern as to whether or not the cause of that experience is photography. Interesting that a little bit of light and some colored paper in the hands of the right person can be turned into fanciful theoretical visions of endless variety and intensity.

Of all the artists photographing these days, David Haxton is certainly one of the most original and thoroughly enjoyable. The photographs combine a sophisticated abstraction with a rich sensitivity to produce unique imagery with formal underlying concepts: all very sound reasons to anticipate that Haxton is capable of producing the more interesting and possibly significant photographs within the realm of the visual arts.