At once photographic and surreal, Simon Huelsbeck drops paintings whose monochrome imperative is necessary, while Philly is scattered among the ruins of our shared psyches. Details are impounded and compounded, their reflexive reality made manifest through compositions where the lyric impulse yields a narrative path into the inner limits. Pineal activation is warranted while the intensity of this artist’s extreme vision puts our breath on hold for moments that clock by in increments stretched to the breaking point. But fear not, we breathe, you bet we do.
Huelsbeck paints in oil on wood in unusually narrow formats - 21 inches high by 9 wide is a typical size. He also paints in sepia monochrome, the look of antique photographs.The paintings even appear to have been composed from photographs. The pictures mix past and present seamlessly, in a way that gives each equal value.This is apparent, for instance, in the show’s largest painting, Thirteenth and Arch. Huelsbeck plants the Convention Center on one side of the street and a large neoclassical building, perhaps a bank, on the corner opposite. Five children dressed in the clothes of an earlier era pose in the intersection.The painting dramatizes what is constantly apparent in Philadelphia: that past and present conflate everywhere, and that the past is intrinsic to the present. Huelsbeck’s charming, piquant reveries help us to remember that vital bit of insight.
Huelsbeck continues to offer work that both touches on photorealism and boasts his characteristic aged look through a limited palette grounded in sepia tones. Subjectwise, he wanders Philly, capturing sights and sites with equal aplomb, his hand/eye coordination filtered through his imagination.Though he offers places found in the city, his Philly is not to be found in our world, but an alternate universe of Huelsbeck Space. Back streets and familiar landmarks alike become terra incognita, their very souls stripped down and remade through nightmare or just dreams gone awry. Varied scenes take themselves as tragedies, though there is ever a distance maintained through how Huelsbeck approaches his approach. He comes in for a landing after sweeping the skyline for all the right warts, ready to sprout anew into something most wondrous strange.Strangeness for its own sake is something obvious, thus this is something that Huelsbeck keeps away from with the greatest of (rel)ease. His surreal tendencies sometimes pay off through a dereliction of concept as entropy tears through the city. In this, Huelsbeck reminds one of another former resident of the City of Brotherly Love, David Lynch. Indeed, these paintings possess something of the storyboard to them. The cinema that Huelsbeck announces is one where special effects are cause and effect oriented, with each brushstroke enough to elicit shock and awe. There is some very universal throughout the work, as Philadelphia becomes a canvas of motion, a screen on which stills play out their lives with limitless dimension, and 3-D glasses are optional.