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Object of the Week: 3 Panel Glyph #2

Seattle-based artist Denzil Hurley was born in Barbados, West Indies, and studied at the Portland Museum Art School and, later, the Yale School of Art, where he received his MFA in 1979. He was a professor in painting and drawing at the University of Washington for twenty-three years before retiring in 2017.

Known for his quiet, monochromatic abstractions, Hurley often finds himself in the company of abstract painters who came before him, such as Kazimir Malevich and Ad Reinhardt. However, Hurley—in a move that might appear heretical to these painters of earlier generations—introduces sculptural interventions to his otherwise subdued compositions.

In 3 Panel Glyph #2—part of a series inspired by the artist’s recent visits to Barbados and the island’s built environment—three stretched canvases are mounted to repurposed wooden poles and handles, a move that immediately transforms the monochromatic square paintings into objects resembling placards and signs.

Image of a group of protestors in 2020 with signs that read "Black Lives Matter" and "Get Your Knee off our Necks"

Hurley’s formal motivations are clear, and the works in his Glyph series are made through repeatedly building up layers of paint that are then removed to reveal a textured surface bearing the traces of his process. However, Hurley’s interest in form and structure is not purely abstract, for he is also deeply invested in the connection between the language of painting as it relates to speech. It is no accident that this body of work borrows its title from a term of Greek origin—glyph: a symbol that conveys information through nonverbal means.

In our current moment, it is hard not to see this work as a visual placeholder for the political, asserting its agency through its very presence, as well as what’s made absent. Though any explicit meaning is obfuscated, its form alone is reminiscent of signs carried by activists and protestors the world over. What the 3 Panel Glyph declares, however, is left for the viewer to decipher.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections & Provenance Associate

Image: 3 Panel Glyph #2, 2012-14, Denzil Hurley, oil on canvas on panel and sticks, 60 x 56 in., Modern Art Acquisition Fund, 2017.34, © Denzil Hurley

Muse/News: Arts New from SAM, Seattle, and Beyond

SAM News

#AsiaNow, the blog of the Association for Asian Studies, interviews SAM curator Ping Foong about her book, The Efficacious Landscape, which won the 2017 AAS Joseph Levenson Book Prize, Pre-1900 Category.

“During a field trip with classmates to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, we were able to see a handscroll attributed to Guo Xi, believed to be painted in his style centuries after he lived. At that moment, I had a strong reaction to the imagery, causing me several nights of sleep: I was seeing the very poems about Guo Xi’s paintings, composed by Su Shi and his circle that I just read.”

Art in America reviewed SAM’s recently closed installation, Denzil Hurley: Disclosures, noting how its formalist explorations transmit a “foreboding ambiguity.”

“With the subtlest of moves, he weds abstraction to extra-aesthetic concerns: Black Lives Matter protests come to mind, with the chilling recollection that the white-clad Klan has had a presence in the state of Washington since the 1920s.”

Local News

Claudia Castro Luna has been named the 2018-2020 Washington State Poet Laureate; the poet and teacher is the first immigrant and woman of color to assume the role.

City Arts offers this helpful summary of recent leadership changes at Seattle arts organizations, including the appointments of Rachel Cook at On the Boards and Tim Lennon at LANGSTON.

Seattle Times film critic Moira Macdonald shares a nostalgic look at the city’s historic moviehouses.

“Old moviehouses, where we sit in the dark with the ghosts of generations and get lost in someone’s dream of flickering light, just might do the same. They hold our stories; they become part of our stories.”

Inter/National News

Hyperallergic exclusively shares the trailer for Beuys, a documentary about the legendary conceptual artist Joseph Beuys; his Felt Suit (1978) is currently on view in Big Picture: Art After 1945.

On December 2, artist Cai Guo-Qiang will present an explosive performance piece on the site on the first-ever human-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in Chicago.

Check out exciting photos from Prospect 4 Triennial in New Orleans, which includes work by 73 artists from the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean, as well as Africa, Europe, and Asia.

And Finally

8,000-year-old rock engravings reveal that dogs have been good dogs for millennia

– Rachel Eggers, SAM Manager of Public Relations

What Do You Disclose? An Interview with Denzil Hurley

Seattle-based artist and University of Washington professor Denzil Hurley’s glyph paintings are aptly titled. A glyph is a symbol. One that typically conveys an agreed upon or shared meaning. These can be the unique marks of the written word, a graphic element, or an inscription. More broadly, a glyph can be a shape or color that we understand to have an agreed upon purpose separate from language, such as a circle with a slash through it for “no,” or red for “stop.” In Hurley’s work, shape and color are paramount.  Well known for his monochrome paintings and impact on the world of abstract painting, a selection of these glyph paintings currently hang at SAM in Denzil Hurley: Disclosures, on view through November 5.

In Disclosures these paintings become sculptural by being mounted on repurposed sticks and poles. As objects, the glyph paintings become reminiscent of signs and harken back to Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 painting, Black Square which was intimately tied to social and political discussions at the cusp of the October Revolution in Russia. Deceptively simple, there’s a density to Hurley’s black canvases in his layering of the paint and in his use of materials. Spend some time in Disclosures the next time you come by SAM and consider what you derive from a redacted painting involving the form of signs and the framing of the wall. What does your understanding say about our socially constructed meanings of these symbols?

SAM: The works at SAM came out of visits to Barbados. Can you tell us about these trips? I’m thinking specifically about how they informed the material concerns of your work.

Denzil Hurley: The idea of repurposing materials arose out of observations I made over many years, and several trips there. The paintings in the exhibition were selected from a larger body of work that began around 2006–07. Each piece was thought of, and developed individually out of my interests in modular forms and structures involving squares and rectangles.

Do you see these paintings as a whole? If I think about the public protests being referenced through the work, and the “power in numbers” philosophy behind taking to the streets, do you feel that viewers can derive a larger meaning by seeing the group than by seeing a single work in the series?

I exhibited related pieces from this larger body of work in the Northwest Biennial at Tacoma Art Museum in 2009, and a Francine Seders Gallery group exhibition in 2012. I welcome the curatorial decision at SAM to select, and present the work in a particular way. It certainly serves to open up the room and bring certain referencing to the fore.

You talk about density in your paintings. In your monochrome paintings how do you use a single color to create layered meaning?

My working process and painting ideas involve color, layering, stacking, erasure and concerns with surfaces that allow individual differences to be developed and realized in each piece.

In a work such as the piece framing the empty wall, does density continue to play a part in the work?

Within the context of one piece relating to another and involving the wall, the floor, and bringing together painting ideas, sculptural form, and installation practice, it allows for conjunctions between differences.

Images: Installation views of “Denzil Hurley: Disclosures” at Seattle Art Museum, 2017, photos: Mark Woods.

Get to Know SAM’s VSOs: Lyta Sigmen

Lyta Sigmen is a graduate of the Cornish College of the Arts design program. She frequently finds herself gravitating towards the arts, for work and for pleasure. She’s currently illustrating and writing her own graphic novel, and is also recording and producing gaming related content for YouTube five days a week under a secret pen name.

SAM: UW Professor Denzil Hurley’s installation Disclosures (May 20–November 5) is currently on display. What stands out to you about this recent addition to the work on view at SAM?

Lyta Sigmen: Walking into the room, you can imagine and feel the energy of the marches and protests that are so abundant today.

What is your favorite piece of art currently on display at SAM?

Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast by Albert Bierstadt in the American Art gallery is visually very striking and alive with activity. Be it imagined or painted from reality, this piece is alive with magic and activity!

Who is your favorite artist?

This sort of question is like asking what my favorite food or movie is. It can change on a whim based on my mood on any given day. I respect a lot of artwork you wouldn’t find in a museum. Friends and fellow artists make art based on their struggles in our world, and how it impacts them—from young Asian-American artist, Yao Xiao, to story writer and comics artist Mark Crilley. Ask me again tomorrow, I guarantee the answer will be different.

What advice can you offer to guests visiting SAM?

With the museum offering such a range of art, not everyone will appreciate the vast collection. I would say, consider the type of art you want to see to help guide you, but keep an open mind in galleries that invoke a “huh” response.

Tell us more about you! When you’re not at SAM, what do you spend your time doing?

When I’m not working, I’m either involved in my relationship with my partner, illustrating/writing for my graphic novel, or recording/editing for my online YouTube channel. Sadly the comic isn’t done, and the YouTube thing is under a secret pen name. It’s all part of the allure!

– Katherine Humphreys, SAM Visitor Services Officer