HarlteyJohn Hartley is one of those painters for whom a solo show is not only totally deserved but eagerly anticipated. And Artspace 111, arguably one of Fort Worth’s most progressive, indie-art-gallery-spaces, is just the kind of forum for Hartley’s signature brand of artistry. For his show, Now and Then, Hartley is trafficking in his whimsically familiar territory of paintings that honor, if not revere, the most bruised and battered totems of our past – namely the playthings of small kids. Through the prism of his own collection of near decrepit toys, Hartley calls on memories associated with them, by reviving them in paintings that are replete with color, action, and emotional resonance. So alive are Hartley’s works with the remnants of his childhood’s playthings that racecars practically zoom off the tableaux, while toy soldiers wander in almost anarchic, pell-mell fashion across a canvas battlefield.

Hartley eschews any traditional compositional rules in favor of his own peculiar alignment of figures, many of them illuminated by the kind of light found in the most unsparing of photographic images. Hartley, when addressing how he approaches toy soldiers, is often quoted as saying that they “symbolize to me a popular fascination with the hero and violence…The chips and dings are proof of some child’s vigorous play…”  A holder of multiple degrees from TCU, Hartley is, himself, a gallery director – of Fort Worth’s Gallery 414 and also a professor of painting. Such is the prestige of Hartley’s work that some of it calls the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth its permanent home.  

Details: Now and Then, through November 30th at Artspace 111, east of downtown, Fort Worth at Hampton and Weatherford streets. Free and open to public. For private gallery appointments, call 817-692-3228; www.artspace111.com.

[Image: John Hartley, Bird’s Eye View, 2013, oil on canvas, "30 x 40″]