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Starry skies and spray paint meet at Gavlak Gallery
Artist Hubert Bush says his work reminds him of his longtime love of star maps.
By Jan Sjostrom

Orion. The Big Dipper. Gemini. They’re all familiar star constellations.

But how about I Promise, 4-Ever and The Magic Elevator? They’re Hubert Bush’s inventions.


It’s about time we updated the constellations, Bush said. After all, many names date to back to Ancient Greece. He’s done that in several of the paintings on view in “Star Maps and Flying Couches,” his solo show at Gavlak Gallery.


“When you look at stars, it’s like a Rorschach test,” Bush said. “What do you see when you look up? It’s chipping away at the unknown and making it knowable. If you make a design and connect the dots, somehow it’s not so daunting. It’s something we can wrap our minds around.”


The show’s keystone is I Promise, a large painting that resembles a hand-drawn star map. White stick figures made up of dots connected with lines stand out against a field of black crossed by concentric circles and edged with color. These “star maps” begin with an under layer of gouache colors. Shielded from head to toe with protective clothing and connected to a hose pumping air from a compressor, Bush draws on this abstract background with spray paint. In some areas, the dark paint puddles like an asteroid belt. In other sections, the gouache seeps through like the colors tinging the deep-space images from the Hubble telescope.


First solo show
The show is Bush’s first solo exhibition at a commercial gallery. Bush, who lives in Miami and New York, started painting and drawing as a child. He and his partner, television producer Douglas Cramer, have accumulated a notable collection of modern and contemporary art. But for many years most of Bush’s energy went into film and television projects. He didn’t focus making art until about 10 years ago. He says he brings the enthusiasm of an emerging artist to his work, as well as the life experience of a man in his 50s and the trained eye of a seasoned collector.


Gallery owner Sarah Gavlak had been following Bush’s work for a couple years when she saw his solo show at an artist-run space in December in Miami Beach. “I saw that he was hitting his stride and had a clear, concise body of work,” she said. At the time, Bush hadn’t started most of the work she’s showing, but she’s not disappointed. “I knew, based on the direction he was going, that whatever new stuff he was experimenting with would be great,” she said.


Longtime love

While Bush was experimenting, he noticed that the marks he was making resembled constellations, which reminded him of his longtime love of planetarium shows and star maps. He took it from there. Even paintings with more solid, silhouetted figures have their origins in constellations. The slumped pose of the figure in Fireflies, for example, is modeled on the Big Dipper. The show also includes a group of smaller paintings of distorted faces. These began with blasts of spray paint. Not unlike someone seeing constellations in the night sky, Bush discerned faces in the paint and embellished them with oil stick and ink.


He considers his work as “a historical documentation of my reactions to what’s happening in my life, a kind of history of my lifetime.”


But others are free to read into it what they will, just as humanity has been doing with the stars for centuries.