Dick Turpin: The spurious Highwayman
By David Brewster
Through Oct. 26 at C. Grimaldis gallery
David Brewster's large-scale landscape paintings, awash with fluorescent orange, neon green, and hazy, fleshy pink colors, seem to reference a post-nuclear-war sort of reality. Brewster, a 53-year-old Baltimore-born artist, is not afraid to break rules. In some works, it looks like he uses every color in his arsenal, but he balances them, sometimes graying out colors, which nevertheless leave a trace, to make way for other bolder ones. He doesn't try to hide his brushstrokes or the way he constructs these scenes, and leaves clues to his process in the final pieces: paint slapped on, scraped away, and manipulated with tools other than a brush. He works in the French tradition au premier coup, which means "all at once." Also known in Italian as alla prima, it's a fast way of painting, working wet paint into wet paint before the first layers dry.
The bold, acidic colors and Brewster's hasty application of paint provide a kind of cohesion to the show, but the four paintings that give the show its title seem disjointed from the rest of the exhibit, partly because there are so few of them. These paintings were inspired by prints Brewster found in his mother's attic depicting the legendary British highwayman Dick Turpin, but the figures make these paintings more about a narrative, which keeps the viewer at a distance, removing one's own experience of the language and immediacy of painting.
The Dick Turpin paintings still rely on the very quick gesture and laying down of color-one swath of green to describe a whole plane, a few thick, earthy red lines to delineate the structure of a building in the background-so that the figure of Turpin on horseback seems almost incidental and detracts from the real points of interest in Brewster's work. The process of painting in Brewster's landscapes is often about moments of interruption, where color and mark disrupt each other, but the figures make an otherwise exciting landscape feel static. They are perhaps a little too straightforward and illustrative for the rest of the exhibition.
The rest of the work uses painting as a language to communicate the overwhelming experience of being in a place where colors, textures, physical sensation, light, air, and temperature collide around you all at once. In these works, there is no single perspective and no clear depth of field. Instead, fields of color constantly disrupt each other and cause perceptual chaos in a collage of glances. Brewster's work is less about a representation of reality and more about the individual's immersion in and experience of that reality.
Each of the paintings contains some Bob Ross-esque "happy little trees" marks, which could become formulaic and dull, but the diverse and energetic brushstrokes force the eye to move quickly beyond any single detail as it traces the movement of the artist's hand. In "Western Run on a Hot Day," one sees moments where the paint is thin and maybe applied with a sponge next to thicker, more visceral layers of paint. When looking closely, the viewer gets lost in details and varied types of marks, abstracting what, from a distance, reads as a landscape.
Several works, like "Corn Crib," "Gothic Lime," and "Cabin in Dark Shadows," are more easily read as landscapes because of the rigid structures in the composition. A house, cabin, or similar edifice sits among colorful brushstrokes. "Corn Crib" in particular stands out with the structure in the right-hand side of the composition, while a distant white house recedes into the background and some hills go farther back. The land seems cut and pasted onto the cobalt-blue ground of the painting surface, the intensity of which matches the colors of the landscape, flattening the space and creating this pleasantly confusing dreamworld.
The rest of the paintings evoke a chaotic world or time period: No calm or solace suffuse these landscapes of dreamlike worlds and forlorn houses. Such loud colors and textures create constant tension, with little room to take a breath or let your eye rest. In reality, we are constantly inundated with sensations of light, natural and man-made objects and forms, and the millions of perspectives from which we can see them. "Twilight Window" is a good example of this varying viewpoint. The painting interrupts itself all over-a hazy pink sky filters out into a muddy yellow, and grayed purple patches cover large sections of the whole landscape. Innocuous idylls are transformed through alarming color schemes and abrupt marks. Is this scene a city? A farm? A quaint park? Yes, no, all of that, at once.
Brewster's paintings offer the viewer a glimpse into how he pieces together his perceptions, reminding us that our own realities-and the landscapes we move through-come together through a network of color, texture, and abrupt decision-making.