At least two Bronxes are on display in the glorious exposition of Daniel Hauben’s paintings currently at the Andrew Freedman House.
In one version, happy people, healthy trees and bustling stores cram streets and skylines in the artist’s native Kingsbridge and beyond. Another vision depicts the borough as a wasteland where threats lurk and humanity lingers among rough roads and abandoned buildings.
While there appears to be a trajectory from Mr. Hauben’s grim paintings, made from the 1970s to 1990s, to his cheerful works, which are more recent, viewers are probably safe ignoring the years printed next to his titles. The 58-year-old painter’s Bronx just might be someplace timeless.
In Mr. Hauben’s Black Windows VIII, rows of abandoned grey buildings create a scene that could illustrate a modern retelling of Dante’s Inferno. The artist’s use of a knife and a dentist’s rotary tool on thick swathes of oil paint give the buildings a tactile aspect that makes you think damned souls are waiting to pop out.
The three-story building in Freedom & Resting presents a bleak biography of Mr. Hauben. Going from a window at the top left of the painting to one at the bottom right, we see the artist as a boy squirming on his father’s lap, birds flapping their wings next to a caged Barbary ape and a number of references to Mr. Hauben’s painting and his Judaism.
Given the artist’s placement of the sad simian at the center of the work, it seems like all the other figures in the painting represent failed outlets of a repressed nature. On the other hand — as a highly abstract, psychedelic work called Expanded View makes clear — Mr. Hauben’s world is not an entirely linear one, and trying to divine his meaning is part of the fun.
The panoramic Prospect Station offers a striking contrast with wide canvases among Mr. Hauben’s more recent output. In the former work, a hooded man walks a wolf-like animal down the middle of a mostly deserted street. It is not clear if he is on the prowl or just on guard as one woman protects a child and another appears to offer her body on the mostly deserted street.