Denzil Hurley: To be pained is to have lived through feeling
Canada is pleased to present To be pained is to have lived through feeling, by painter Denzil Hurley. Curated by Gervais Marsh, Ph.D, this is Hurley’s third exhibition with the gallery, and brings together work he created over the last three decades, including some pieces that have never been exhibited previously. The exhibition’s title comes from the artist’s personal writings, and is complemented by another of his thoughts,“Pleasure is the conduit that allows a person to endure in the world.” Together, these musings embrace the breadth and complexity of feeling that emanates through Hurley’s work. In his paintings, the meditation on form is imbued with an intimacy that considers nuances of color, configurations of space, and the structure of the canvas. Paint is both layered and peeled back in generative, open-ended conversations not dictated by time.
Throughout his career, Hurley practiced a method of study devoted to intellectual and material investigations through artmaking. To be pained is to have lived through feeling is an opportunity to ruminate on the different conversations and questions generated across paintings created years apart. His practice was deeply committed to process and spurred by a perceptive approach to materiality. Each piece is a composition of textural and tonal variation, quietly affirming the richness of obscurity. Withholding is a measure of autonomy, giving way to speculation, and Hurley’s paintings communicate across multiple frequencies if you listen closely. (1)
The exhibition includes pieces such as Glyph D and Redact #5, from both Hurley’s Glyph and Redact series, as well as several drawings on paper, juxtaposing his exploration of the tension between addition and erasure with the utilitarian qualities of his panel/stick combinations. Interested in the exchange between his work and the viewer, Hurley rejected the assumption that minimalism is devoid of feeling. This reflective quality engenders a sincerity that can be an act of trust for those who encounter his work.
Hurley recognized the frame of the painting was not meant to encompass an image in totality, rather the canvas serves as a receptacle that bears witness to a proliferation of ideas and emotions. In the Glyph series, his spatial perspective resonates through experiments with stacking paintings or removing and folding sections of canvas in exploration of negative space, not as absence but as notes on the relations between the painting as object, the surface of the wall, and the viewing experience. There is a vulnerability to his dismantling of painting: he allowed his work to breathe on its own as he attended to the frictions between accumulation and redaction.
Along with the exhibition, Canada has published a monograph that highlights Hurley’s work throughout his career, along with three essays engaging the depth of the artist’s practice. The exhibition will also be complemented by a symposium, activating Hurley’s work through critical discussion and performance. Scholar Kevin Quashie theorizes quiet in relation to Black life as a “metaphor for the full range of one’s inner life—one’s desires, ambitions, hungers, vulnerabilities, fears.… It is hard to see, even harder to describe, but no less potent in its ineffability.” Quashie’s words are an apt characterization of Denzil Hurley’s artwork. In both the exhibition To be pained is to have lived through feeling, and in his larger practice, he prioritized the realm of the interior, which led to a rigorous career of deeply moving and contemplative work.
Denzil Hurley was born in Barbados in 1949 and died in Seattle in 2021. He recieved an MFA from Yale and a BFA from the Portland Museum School. His work has been exhibited widely in the United States and is in the collections of The Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Henry Art Gallery, University of Washington, Seattle; the Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon, as well as the Seattle Art Museum, Seattle. Hurley had solo exhibitions at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, the Weatherspoon Art Museum and the Seattle Art Museum, among others. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in addition to awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Pollock-Krasner Foundation, and the Ford Foundation. Hurley was a professor of Painting and Drawing at the University of Washington from 1994 until his retirement in 2017, when he was honored with Emeritus status.
(1) See Tina Campt, “The Visual Frequency of Black Life: Love, Labor, and the Practice of Refusal,.” Social Text, Vol. 140, No. 3, (September 2019): 25–46.