The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2012

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NOV 2012 Issue


On View
John Davis Gallery
October 11 – November 4, 2012
New York

Recently on view at John Davis Gallery were Farrell Brickhouse’s latest paintings spanning the last two years of his career.  Two dozen works speckled with glitter and flecked with white dots filled both the first and second floors and the gallery.  Brickhouse’s latest quasi-figurative paintings are all imbued with a distinct light that captures the rich nexus between lived experience and imagination.  Brickhouse typically frames scenic moments of solitary experience, which are simultaneously collective experiences.  These are works about time.  These are works about being there.  These are works about what it means to be engaged in the present moment.  They are some of the most intimate paintings of our time. 

Farrell Brickhouse, “Stapleton Rainbow,” 2010. 20 x 16”. Oil, mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of John Davis Gallery.

“Ashore III” (2012) depicts an immersive experience. A pair of dangling, sun-bathed legs bisects the cerulean under-painting.  Cut off at his ruby red swim trunks, the bather is just below the water swimming upward. Here, Brickhouse elucidates his capacity to spread richly nuanced color on the surface with ease. The visual suspension of this work is compelling, as the subject is both floating to the surface and falling deeper. 

Brickhouse teaches at the School of Visual Arts.  He created “Stapleton Rainbow” (2010) using the leftover paint he would not let his students throw out.  The resulting surface is unexpected, dense and palpable.  Having grown up in a working class neighborhood in Queens, Brickhouse is no stranger to the rough nature of city life.  His urban rainbow appears out of nowhere as its vivid rays project atop a gray, concrete-like backdrop.  This work is an affirmation.  It is an affirmation of grass growing between the cracks of pavement, the sunrise over the sky rise, the visible spectrum against the bleakness of industry.

These paintings are also about homage: to the journey, to the muse, and to the fellow traveler.  In this sense, his works are intersubjective.  Phenomenologically, this allows for empathy.  This kind of relationship, which is quickly disappearing in contemporary culture, involves experiencing another person as a subject rather than as an object among objects. In so doing, one experiences oneself as seen by the other, and the world in general as a shared world rather than one available only to the self. This kind of empathy shines in works like “Diver,” (2012).  This work pictures Brickhouse’s deceased friend, upside down floating with bright orange fishes.  Arms flailing, his languid body is painted in the same deep blue hue as the surrounding sea. And save for two orange dots, that indicate eyes, his appearance is a pale memory, resurfaced.

Farrell Brickhouse, “Muse,” 2011. 24 x 18”. Oil, mixed media on canvas. Courtesy of John Davis Gallery.

In 1888 van Gogh completed “The Painter on the Road to Tarascon.”  It may be his most optimistic painting.  Spry and walking swiftly, the artist depicts himself as a bohemian wanderer—seeking the perfect plein air stand post.  Two years later he was dead by his own hand.  It stands in stark contrast to the lowly, melancholic depiction of the artist in Francis Bacon’s “Study for a Portrait of van Gogh V, (1957)”. Picturing the very same sojourn some 69 years later, Bacon painted a van Gogh he knew only from photographs.  Bacon’s reified vision captures a sense of ominous foreboding replete with looming shadow, haggard presence and dejected glare—aiming directly at the spectator.  It is a glare, so powerful, that it thrusts the viewer’s gaze back onto herself. 

In kind, Brickhouse’s painting “Muse” (2011), depicts both seer and seen.  And with it, he also manages to bring two divergent glares, van Gogh’s and Bacon’s, into conversation.  “Muse” has a deeply encrusted surface of discarded paint.  The kind of paint that gums up your palette creating valleys and ravines so deep, it turns the moon jealous.  The accretions pile to form a lush background of deep, forest green.  In the middle of these woods, emanating from the thicket, stands the luminous subject.  She is almost an entire abstraction.  Arms stretched over the back of her head, yellow face beaming and clod in weathered shoes; her body forms an hourglass.  The richly impastoed backdrop allows her glowing body to be burnished into the paint. There is no surface here: she is both image and ground.  Her presence/absence is a faintly, shimmering essence gleaming back into the eye of the observer.  Brickhouse has been quoted as saying, “painting is a way to share the totality of what I’ve seen, touched, and what has touched me.”  This work, so highly poignant, underscores this phrase in the most literal and figurative sense there is.

362 1/2 Warren St. // Hudson, NY


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2012

All Issues