Saturday, April 9, 2011


We drove to downtown Los Angeles yesterday, primarily to stop by the rented studio space where our friend Richard Bruland is completing a large 9-panel painting commissioned by a business in Kentucky. He'll be driving it across country in a little while, so this was probably the only opportunity we'll get to see it at first hand. It's an impressive piece of work, somewhat akin to the considerably smaller "Promise"...

... which I just pirated (apologies, Richard!) from his website. You'll find plenty more examples there. We learned a lot about just how Richard creates these intricate, endlessly fascinating surfaces, with layer upon layer of paint applied in carefully structured grids (subtly apparent in the example above) which are textured while still wet and finally sanded down to reveal the colors of different levels simultaneously. The play between light at the top and and shade below carries with it just a hint of landscape--along, of course, with all the metaphorical associations evoked in the mind by their juxtaposition.

Having known Richard's work for many years, we were delighted to see how successfully his process works for him in this very large scale. Those familiar with Monet's great water lily paintings will perhaps share my sense of the analogy. There, as in Richard's big painting, we find ourselves unmoored from any single point of reference, and swimming in a warm and welcoming pool of color which, like the universe, has no discernable beginning or end. Nice work!

We did leave time to stop by at CB1 Gallery on West 5th Street on our way home and were happy to have the chance to see at least one half of an exhibition of the Brooklyn-based artist Susan Silas, still in the process of installation. (Don't think of this as a "review"!) The half we got to see was called "eyes wide shut"--a series of color photographs of a dead hawk, set against a stark white background...

and sometimes arranged in the intimate company of another dead bird...

(Images courtesy of CB1 Gallery and the artist)

Observed over the course of several weeks--and therefore in the natural process of decay--the hawk presents an image of stark, innocent beauty and unsentimental pathos. The sharp definition of the photographs and the isolation of the image itself against the white background combine to create a kind of serenity, and a profundity of feeling that is far from the objectivity they might suggest. While the images are, of course, a reflection on mortality, they evoke a comforting sense that even in death there is beauty. (Interestingly, the artist--who was on hand for the installation--told me that she had attempted a similar series with bats, but found that these creatures, as fellow mammals, were too close for human comfort.)

There is, too, the suggestion in this work of a much broader, global context. We do not know how the hawk died, but its "wide shut" eyes--at least for this one viewer--gazed out at me with a kind of accusation. I found myself thinking, inevitably, about the havoc our species wreaks upon our environment, and upon the other species who have the misfortune to have to share the Earth with us. Oblivious to their beauty and their role in the ecological integrity of the planet, we heedlessly pollute the skies that are the province of the birds, destroying those whose natural skills we manage to emulate only with massive, noisesome, lumbering machines of our own invention.

The elegiac quality of these images will surely touch your heart, and their sheer beauty will captivate your eye.

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