Jeff Jennings is a man of many hats. Straw hats, floppy hats, multiple black hats, the occasional fedora -- over the years, he's accumulated quite a collection and he's ready to show it off.
In "Many Hats," a new exhibition at Redbud Gallery, his possessions take center stage. So much so that in the lone painting featuring anything more than just a hat, Out of the Blue, the fellow tipping his hat hello is fading into the blue paint, more apparition than man.
The paintings, done mostly in egg tempera on panels, are also mostly portraits -- the hats float in the middle of the panel, accompanied by a bold, solid background or a small abstract landscape of color. That's the formula throughout the show, save for the lone person in Out of the Blue, as well as a whimsical piece called The Wind Blew in Presidio that features seven hats floating against a blue sky.
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Hats without a head to sit upon as your main source of material seems a bit limiting, but the artist contends that a good hat has a "personality all its own." But instead of letting each stand out on its own, many of the hats wind up looking the same, indistinguishable from one to the next and lost against a busy background.
Jennings's best piece is the most fully detailed. Perhaps A Little Rum is an exceptionally rendered painting of a yellow straw hat against a red landscape. The key is in its simplicity; most of the other hats are painted against a multicolored, abstract background, with drips of paint or calculated lines. Here, the hat is against just a red, splotchy panel that allows the hat to pop and the fine detail of its lines to stand out even more. It's as enticing as a summer's day and yes, a little rum.
"Jeff Jennings: Many Hats" at Redbud Gallery, 303 East 11th Street, runs now through May 27. For more information, call 713-862-2532 or visit www.redbudgallery.com.