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Painting: And Now: Top

3 minute read

“Mine is reverse perspective,” says Charles Hinman, 33. By this he means that his abstract paintings, rather than being stretched flat within rectangular frames, balloon out into space (see color pages). By warping his canvases over well-carpentered underpinnings, Hinman has added a real third dimension to painting, and in so doing he has become the leading exponent of the new movement called “top” (for topographical) art.

Eleven years ago, “Chuck” Hinman was pitching Class A baseball for the Milwaukee Braves. But he soon had a bachelor of fine arts from Syracuse, and in the end, art won out. While teaching industrial-shop work in a Long Island private school, he perfected his hand at carpentry and began constructing wooden ribs that could add contours to his painting.

However, Hinman did not make his device into a straitjacket. The contours of his canvases do not always match the contours of his hard-edged colors. In Cloud No. 2, for instance, a yellow, earlike shape embraces but does not parallel the straight ridge of white, thus throwing into shadows and visual doubts where a shape ends or bends.

Sven Lukin, 31, a Latvian-born New Yorker, is another art pioneer of top. His zest for contours dates back to his student days at the University of Pennsylvania, where he watched architecture students make models of shaped canvas. Currently he is curling scrollwork-like strips of canvas out into space, as if they were peeled from flat murals.

In England, Richard Smith, 34, is the “top” man, and his work is slated to be shown at this year’s forthcoming Venice Biennale. Smith started shaping his canvases for pop art effects when he painted a cigarette box whose corner emerged from the flat picture plane. As his works moved from pop to top, they thrust forward from the wall more and more. “I always have to have the wall plane,” he says, “and to think of the painting as an extension of it.” One of his future projects he calls tents—canvas forms up to 18 feet tall, supported by rods, ropes and pegs.

As an art form, top art stands somewhere between collage, in which objects are pasted onto the canvas, and sculpture, in which the work exists to be viewed in the round. But however hybrid the medium, it has won astonishing acceptance. Hinman, for instance, has had only two one-man shows in as many years, and already his works are owned by seven major museums. Nor are collectors holding back. Governor Nelson Rockefeller already owns one, and would-be purchasers are forming a long queue to buy whatever Hinman may choose to produce next.

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