Whiling away 'The Hours of the Day'

Jennifer K Mahal

The hours are passing by until F. Scott Hess' "The Hours of the Day"

exhibit is no longer at the Orange County Museum of Art. The show, which

closes Sunday, features 24 metaphorical paintings by the Los Angeles

artist organized to represent a day, starting at 5 a.m.

"I didn't start at any specific time," said Hess. "For me the cycle

has no beginning and no end. I painted the even hours first -- midnight,

noon -- and did the odd hours to fill that in."

A woman gives birth alone outdoors, gritting her teeth on a piece of

cloth in "Flood Plain" (5 a.m.). A group of men help one another to build

a house in "Renovation" (10 a.m.). "The Reception" (6 p.m.) finds a cook

handing a tray of fish out of the hellish bowels of the restaurant to a

waitress, while a group of men converse and drink wine.

"Hess finds, and presents in his paintings, universal meanings in

common activities and in the exchanges that occur between people in the

most ordinary situations," said the late Naomi Vine, executive director

of the Orange County Museum of Art, in the acknowledgments to the

exhibit's catalog. "His characters hurt, help, ignore and desire one

another, and we recognize their longing, anxiety, awkwardness and grace

because it is true to our own life experiences."

When he started the cycle of oil and tempura paintings, which took

around six years to complete, the 46-year-artist said he had no idea it

would become a series.

"The Hours of the Day" is special in part because of the companion

catalog that accompanies it. For each painting, Hess wrote a short piece

of fiction.

"I didn't want to write explanations," Hess said, "but [I said I]

would write fiction. The stories told are stories that take off from

different places than where I was headed when I was done painting."

The only things that are consistent from written piece to written

piece are the art history references, he said.

"If something inspired the painting or the composition or the palette,

I tried to put it in," Hess said.

Hess first started to make art when he was 7.

"When my parents got divorced, I started to draw naked ladies tied

up," he said. "I was stopping my mother from leaving my father -- the

symbolic woman being bound and kept in place."

The idea of becoming an artist was foreign to Hess, who grew up in

rural Wisconsin.

"I had never known an artist," he said.

Going to the University of Wisconsin at Madison, his world expanded.

Graduating in 1977, he went on to study at the Akademie der Bildenden in

Vienna, Austria.

Being an artist is "better than I imagined it would be," Hess said,

adding that he thought his life would have him starving in a garret

somewhere. "I'm more successful than that. I have a family and a

beautiful house. It worked out better than I thought it would."

More of Hess' paintings hang on his collectors' walls than on his own.

Only his wildest paintings, the ones that have not been sold, are kept.

"I work on them intensely and one at time and by the time I get to the

end, I am sort of happy to have it go away," Hess said. "Sometimes after

a year, I think 'I should have kept that.' "

FYI

* What: "The Hours of the Day"

* Where: Orange County Museum of Art, 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport

Beach

* When: Through Sunday. Museum hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday

through Sunday

* Cost: $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and students, free for members

and children younger than 16

* Call: (949) 759-1122

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