Hallucinating the Old West: Bryson Brooks' "Home on the Range"

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"Crossing the Rio Grande" by Bryson Brooks - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • "Crossing the Rio Grande" by Bryson Brooks
Denton-born, SA-based painter and performance artist Bryson Brooks is a man with a unique gift for un-forced provocation and playfulness. Celebrated as a painter for bringing his idiosyncratic, avant garde sensibilities to all manner of subjects—from rich and explosive abstracts to bunnies, from quasi-grotesque religious images to self-portraits, landscapes and still lifes—Brooks' latest local exhibition, "Home on the Range," focuses on one of his most enduring creative obsessions: the old American West.

A cursory glace through some of his work archived online (here or here) will be enough to convince even the casual art appreciator of Brooks' gift for three particular things: 1) conveying, almost with an Impressionist's eye, emotion through color and line; 2) partially demolishing his subjects, in a Surrealist manner, to rearrange them into less realistic but more challenging/aesthetically rewarding representations; 3) depicting light with a sublime, dreamlike intensity that feels hyper-real.

Brooks, who was kind enough to speak with the San Antonio Current this week, explained that he was first drawn to painting Westerns while "working on a series of paintings that were cropped images of Richard Prince's 'Cowboy Series.' It was a funny series because Richard Prince made work from taking photos of other people's photographs. The success of those paintings led me to make western paintings based on photos."

Even though Brooks has been at this Western thing for quite some time, this new series marks a departure in that it "is not based on photos," but instead "comes from a Western Utopian vision. In many ways it's closer to a Surrealist approach, I think of the paintings as dream of western expansion."  

This more imaginative and personal method of approaching Western painting has produced dividends in "Home on the Range." The large paintings, like "Crossing the Rio Grade" above, are smudged and gossamer depictions of an idealized internal conception of The West. The freedom the artist has given himself here has resulted in wildly inventive and mildly abstract works that approximate the feelings of reverie often associated with those 'simpler times.' Easy on the eyes yet rich with interesting painterly decisions, this small exhibit is some of Brooks' best work in this mode to date.

Pro tip: when you go, don't overlook the smaller paintings tabled in the middle of the gallery... These Western portraits, with their obscured facial features and contrasting backgrounds, serve to hint at the alienation and nightmare(s) of the Old West as much as the dream.

Bryson Brooks' "Home on the Range" (showing until Feb 2)

Free, 11am-6pm (Mon-Fri), 12pm-5pm (Sat), AnArte Gallery, 7959 Broadway, Suite 404, (210) 826-5674, anartegallery09.com.


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