Michael Hurson's disarming little drawings and collages are as irresistible as contemporary art can be. Charming and finicky, these works on paper have an informal, almost cartoonish drawing style. They're dense with markings, patches of pale color and overpainting, and scribbled with a grab bag of words and phrases.
Hurson's choice of texts seems haphazard, as if they were either overheard in general conversation, plucked from printed sources or sampled from the endless psychic graffiti collecting inside his head. Within this incessant visual din, he inserts small, sketchy figurative drawings, whose breezy offhand character disguises the intellectual care and dexterous facility with which they were created.
The Rob Brezsny Drawing (A Sagittarian Oceanographer) features Hurson's cartoonish script relating the story of a whimsical oceanographer who drops everything to study the sea currents by tracking 29,000 "rubber duckies" accidentally dumped into the ocean. It's an inadvertent, "late-breaking experiment," declares the drawing's narrator, a chance to "have fun and do a useful job at the same time."
Another work, Feast of Music, suggests some kind of incomprehensible musical score. It features a carefully scribbled drawing of what seems to be a choir set against blocks of scratchy text placed every which way against briskly rendered figure studies.
Study for How Mice Remember, one of two three-dimensional works, is like a miniature set full of sly quotations ("Small children and Michael Hurson are fascinated by it. -- F.D."; "'I like imperfections and layers,' says he, 'I don't like taste and I don't like design.'"). Typically, the work is obsessively constructed with the flimsiest bits of colored paper and collaged into a studiously ragged assemblage that includes more quotes, a funky little figure drawing and a sassy three-dimensional cardboard robot-like person, arm akimbo on its paper hip.
Hurson's materials appear ephemeral, as elusive and haphazard as the linguistic debris he collects. But his delight in quirky stories, cheap materials, chance and a comically obsessive show of informality seem to mask a series of understated but mandarin pronouncements on the keys to understanding the work.
Despite their antic clutter, Hurson's works always seem to suggest a certain high-minded sensibility intentionally at odds with the work's spirited messiness. Hurson cheerfully but purposely points us toward an appreciation of the ambient, often improvisational nature of the creative process.
Michael Hurson, Sept. 10-Oct. 16, 1999, at Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 W. 21st, New York, N.Y. 10011.