J. J. Murphy Gallery is pleased to present “David Hornung: New Work,” opening on Thursday, February 8, 2024, 6–8 PM. This marks the Lower East Side gallery’s inaugural exhibition.

Amy Sillman has described painting as a process of getting in and out of trouble, which could equally apply to the approach used by David Hornung in his compelling new series of small-scale abstract paintings.

Hornung’s artwork has changed over time, moving from more representational imagery toward a more playful, upbeat, and eccentric abstraction. His work contains a musicality and visual wit reminiscent of Paul Klee. A brilliant colorist like Klee, Hornung explains the recent shift as reflecting a desire for greater freedom. For him, representational work involves preplanning—a series of sketches that are then “translated” onto canvas—whereas abstraction is more improvisational. It’s about dealing with the moment, a sense of not knowing where he’s going, much like a jazz musician.

In an interview with Lynn Woods, Hornung elaborated on the connection to jazz by observing: “I experience different levels of consciousness as I make a painting. The best analogy would be improvisational music, such as a sax solo by John Coltrane. In places, the melody comes into view, and elsewhere it disappears. You know the musician understands in some conscious part of his mind musical structure, harmony, rhythm, melody and pacing, but there’s no way he could access that in the moment he’s creating a solo. I work out of the unconscious in the heat of making. Afterwards, I sit down and look at it as a distanced observer.”

Hornung’s individual paintings gradually evolve. Shapes radically change form and definition, the canvas sometimes rotates, and, most of all, the subtle colors mutate in unexpected ways, especially in terms of their tonality. Bulwark (2023), for example, consists of triangles and other geometric shapes, strong light and dark contrast, tones that range from quite muted to rather intense, with an internal architecture that recalls some works by the late Thomas Nozkowski.

David Hornung has had numerous solo exhibitions of his work, most recently in 2023 at Elena Zang Gallery in Woodstock, NY, as well as group exhibitions at the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Jeffrey Leder Gallery, and Flowers Gallery, NYC. He’s written art criticism for ARTnews as well as a classic textbook on color, Color: A Workshop for Artists and Designers, now in its third edition and translated into French, Spanish, Polish, Korean, Chinese and Japanese.