Indeed, Hyde's work, as it has developed during the nineties, involves a deliberately do-it-yourself kind of experimentation, free of any aesthetic constraint, with painting's different ways of signifying; it involves issuing various signs of painting in various objectal contexts. In this, although in a category all his own, he is utterly a man of his time, one of at once post-Duchampian post-Warholian abstraction, instilled with the ever so tiny distance separating the thing from the sign of the thing, language from metalanguage – an abstraction covering a vast, complex territory with landmark names as different as, to mention just a very few artists, Gerhard Richter, Olivier Mosset, Jonathan Lasker, John M Armleder, Ross Bleckner, Bernard Frize , Gerwald Rockenschaub, Peter Halley or Christopher Wool. In view of their formal introduction, a kind of proliferation of the pictorial effect, unsurprisingly Hyde's meta-paintings have taken on a wide variety of styles. Thus, among his numerous other plastic propositions, alla fresca paintings on blocks of expanded polystyrene, now of imposing dimensions, now broken up into tiny fragments; glass boxes, either empty or containing pictorial deposits, or even waste; painted handle-shaped artifacts in wood and cement; sets of painted leaves nailed to the wall ; pieces of cast glass on shelves, clumsily wrapped in sticky tape; chromatic compositions on objects that look like items of furniture; sometimes gigantic pillows, covered in colors; and so on and so forth. And as painting, at its different ages, has been embodied in numerous incarnations, through a multitude of styles, the signs used to refer to it are of necessity beings charged with history. Whether intentionally, or not, those delivered by Hyde's work indeed offer a generous range of historical references – Minimalism (that of someone like Donald Judd, notably), Abstract Expressionism, Geometric Abstraction, the Baroque constructions of Frank Stella, some aspects of Imi Knoebel's art, Supports/Surfaces (for the French eye), but no less the frescoes of the Trecento or Duchamp ...
But what is specific to Hyde's work is not just this broad range of plastic solutions (which sees painting in a way that is reminiscent of the seminal gesture of Robert Rauschenberg or the strictly contemporary approach of Jessica Stockholder, capable of selecting any medium) nor this stylistic multi-directionality (whereby painting recalls a number of its different periods, both past and recent), it is first and foremost the tension that is built up between the work as a sign and the work as a thing. In other words, Hyde's art is concerned, not so much with producing the signs of painting rather than actual paintings, as with testing the capacity of certain things to represent painting, or more accurately, the capacity of such representation to be conveyed by this object or that device. What is the threshold, what are the thresholds beyond which the thing overshadows the sign, beyond which this thing that is the sign conjures away the thing to which the sign refers? More concretely, one piece (Divided Chain, 1996) raises the question thus: should one paint one, two, three or more links of a chain in one, two, three or more colors, for it to appear, when hung on the wall, as a credible support for a painting?
Michel Gauthier, JUMPING OVER THE BARRIER
(on an absent painting by James Hyde )in ART PRESENCE n°38, 2001