DAVID HOCHBAUM: IN TWILIGHT'S LOST GLOAMING
When the mighty empire at last closes its eyes at night and lays its heavy head down for a final eternal slumber amidst wracked death rattled sabers snored to its own deaf ears, this is what it dreams. It sees realms so grand in ambition they are built to spill, the world’s burdens perpetually misplaced upon those of remarkable innocence and beauty, the ineffably eloquent elegance of a story that only flowers in its very last breath, and visions rife with omens of ill promise. Instant recall in slow-mo replay, self-conjured collective memories, the incessant accumulation of after-image like some retinal feedback loop, what comes to light in David Hochbaum's paintings is the manifestation of those things we can only imagine when darkness descends. He renders indelible images as scant traces, suggestions of a fearful symmetry in which is etched the memento mori, the painful reminder of loss that can only be gained in the foregoing.
A lover with a coroner's touch, a poete maudit in his heart whose only atonement is to illustrate the scriptures of civilization's nefarious ends, a prevaricator and procrastinator extraordinaire gainfully employed by all who are bound to equivocate the inevitable, there is indeed something magical about the way that Hochbaum can diffuse and disperse such simple truths into miasmic enigmas. To say that his art seduces us like no other is not merely to state the obvious, it is to admit our mutual culpability in some unspeakable shared perversity. Like a Gothic Romance transcribed by the hands of Existentialists, David allows us to believe our doubts by doubting our belief, proffering a tarnished faith that shines in our darkest hours to guide anyone who truly wants to find the way to getting lost. He fires the synapses, kindles the heart and strokes the libido of everything good and rotten in our mind's eye, and just when we’re too intoxicated by the musky aroma of his yet unspoken insinuations he shakes us back to some stuporous consciousness with a rejoinder that these are in fact just pictures. And haunting though they may be, you still know what’s on the other side of this soporific sublime is a quotidian ugliness beyond despair.
A master-weaver of composite realities, is it any wonder that getting anywhere with Hochbaum's art ultimately involves some sort of escape- a flight of fancy upon some inky-black bird's foreboding wing or one way passage on a ship of dubious destination- where each semblance of understanding is posed as a dichotomy poised between irreconcilable differences? He's an insomniac harvesting the fallen defenses and drifting thoughts in the forest of nod, a choreographer of gestures stumbled through like Freudian slips, a man who keeps all the media burning at all hours so that it constantly whispers bittersweet nothings like a moonlit babbling stream of consciousness in the emotional crevices of our psyche. If you ever spent time in that bedlam bar boiling just under the floorboards where David Hochbaum lives and works, you’d understand why he's so good at accessing these psychologically interstitial places, carving lean-to castles in those compromised spaces where things are not how they reappear to be. His art grows from the reproduction of images, from the diminishment of certainty and loss of authority that is born in the reprocessing of visual data. A cartographer of interpositions, the place he imagines, The Mysterious Action of Memory as he calls it, can only exist as an arcane multi-media where photography, silkscreen, linoleum cuts, pen and ink drawing, acrylic and oil painting, carbon transfer and visionary epistolary converge in a single polyglot. There is unforgettable wisdom here, unutterable save for the lower languages where exiles, fools and madmen talk tongues to one another in the tones of forgotten prophets.
-By Carlo McCormick
David Hochbaum is a nocturnal person. The couple of times I have met him over the last two years in three different countries, he was usually jet-lagged, overworked, tired, or a combination thereof, always in good spirits paired with a certain hyper-activity that only comes from long-distance travel and lack of sleep: the soul trying to catch up with the body.
This is not to say that David Hochbaum had no soul on these occasions - quite the opposite. Hochbaum is a passionate, sincere individual who takes everyone's heart by storm and inspires friendship and feelings of kinship in people who barely know him. It is not so surprising to walk down a street with him in his native New York City and watch people greet him with smiles in their eyes as it is to, say, experience the very same thing in London, where he has barely ever been. How it is that everyone seems to know David Hochbaum is a mystery but he is one of those people who can never be lost because they will always find someone to help them, even someone who knows them personally, even at the end of the world. And yet, despite this great sense of being connected to people, there is something that urges him to explore isolation, division and separation in his art, often in the form of symbols with multiple, even contradictory, layers of meaning that are hidden within the many layers of his work. While Hochbaum seems to live each moment intensely, perhaps more intensely than most of us, he appears to be nostalgic for a present that is, just this very moment, becoming the past - the result is an intense relationship with the here & now but also, and inevitably, a constant sense of loss. It is this fleeting sense of nostalgia, of the fragility and preciousness of the moment, the interweaving of past, present and future, of dreams, memories and their interpretation, that is the most pronounced in his work.
Of course, the artist and his body of work are two separate entities and should be treated as such - yet Hochbaum's work is intensely personal and intimate precisely because he is appealing to universal concepts and philosophical ideas in such a personal way that we stand in front of his works not as a collective audience but as individuals. His subject matter, his symbols and the symbolic settings of his work all try to connect on this level, they depict models in personal, almost intimate moments of contemplation that each of us is invited to share. His recurring themes include dreams, the encryption of memory and time in our minds and bodies (as Hochbaum's own body is encrypted: tattoos, modern-day ciphers, cover a lot of its surface area), arrival and departure, journeys and inner searchings, trying to find a balance between the inner and outer world. His work is about division and loneliness, and yet it is also about unity, community, self-determination, and ultimately, love, offering great comfort and hope. The recurring symbols in his works are ladders, houses, cities, bundles of sticks, arrows, birds and ships to name but a few. Hochbaum walks a fine line between the subconscious and reality, interweaving these two parallel worlds, posing the question " Did this really happen or was it a dream?" - searching, traveling, arriving and departing, leaving nobody he meets along the way untouched.
By Iris Bitter
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