CULTURE- Info overload: Blake Hurt's telling show

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Sunday morning, I was paging through the latest issue of Harper's magazine, when I came across this quote from David Markson's book, Wittgenstein's Mistress: "Once somebody asked Robert Schumann to explain the meaning of a certain piece he had just played on the piano. What Schumann did was sit back down at the piano and play the piece of music again."

How I wish Blake Hurt had taken a more Schumann-like approach to his current exhibition, "About Face," on view at the McGuffey Art Center. In addition to 16 30" x 40" digitally generated portraits (plus two diptychs demonstrating his method), Hurt displays an oversized and extensive artist's statement, as well as written commentary on each piece. And, just in case you miss the words on the wall, a multi-page handout repeats the information.

Clearly, Hurt didn't get the "Show, don't tell" memo.

Perhaps all the verbiage comes from the artist's insecurity about the success of his images. But I suspect the real reason is Hurt's personal fascination with the technique he's developed. Hurt composes his portraits by using a software program he's written to overlay color headshots of friends and family with patterns and line drawings.

What he calls an "ink collage" method allows Hurt to combine aspects of a person's life with his or her image. For instance, in "Bill, Under Construction," Hurt melds a photograph of a builder with outlines of heavy equipment and a drawing generated from a satellite image of downtown Charlottesville. In this case, the complex result has a quality similar to a watercolor painting.

Elsewhere Hurt alters underlying faces with repeating patterns, such as multiple butterflies or colorful concentric circles, reminiscent of Chuck Close's recent work. As with Close's portraits, the closer the encounter, the more abstract Hurt's images become; the human visage fully emerges only when seen from a distance. Which means McGuffey's downstairs hall is hardly the ideal venue for Hurt's work. Only "America," hanging at the north end of the gallery space, allows viewing from afar.

Hurt's wish to demystify his process is understandable, but too often his words weaken the images by telling viewers what to see. For instance, the power of "John, Architect," is undercut by Hurt's pointing out the brick arch over the brows and the subtle cat element. His commentary deprives viewers of the thrill of discovery.

By telling too much, Hurts takes his art's visual magic and reduces it to a series of gimmicky tricks.

Blake Hurt's exhibition, "About Face," runs through October 28 at the McGuffey Art Center. 201 Second St. NW. 295-7973.