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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Scott Brodie Retrospective at Albany Center Gallery

Scott Brodie - Waputki 2, oil on canvas 2015
There's one thing nearly all painters have in common: They love to push paint around. A power-packed retrospective of nearly 40 years of work by Scott Brodie at Albany Center Gallery (on view through Oct. 3) amply illustrates this fact, and equally demonstrates that it is true whether the image is photo-realistic, totally abstract or anything in between.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
And, if you think it's not possible for a painter to work in such (apparently) divergent styles while maintaining a singular voice, think again. We all evolve over time, but even in a long-term retrospective an artist should show consistency - if they don't, it's a sign of inadequate commitment to a vision. Yet Brodie's show, despite its diversity, makes clear that his vision has remained quite clear over the long haul and, in my opinion, has grown stronger of late.

The consistency comes in the way Brodie engages with color and (secondarily) form in all his paintings. The earliest example in the show is a somewhat academic but somehow still playful study of cardboard boxes from 1977. In it, one can recognize the handling of paint that remains characteristic in his latest works, such as the lush, juicy Waputki 2 (shown at the top of this post) and numerous other recent near-abstractions in the show.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
More closely related to the box painting are a couple of examples from the late '90s that depict colorful books. Here, as with the boxes, it is apparent Brodie is more interested in how the subject looks - or, more important, how it looks when he paints it - than he is in what it means. And, correct me if I'm wrong, but that is the essence of abstraction. Jump ahead, again, to the most recent work in the show, and you see landscapes rendered as pure form and color. No, it goes further - you see richly brushed paint exploring the forms and colors that were once part of a landscape.

Brodie's images of books are joined in the show by a couple of (literally) sweet studies in pink and grey, depicting a scatter of Sweet-n-Low packets. These, from '07, form another across-the-decades link to the boxes, but also fit right in with the new landscapes, which favor similar color schemes. Wait, did I call the new paintings landscapes? Well, there you are, then - I guess they're not really abstract after all.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
One finds in these landscapes an affinity with bright, hot light, whether taken from the American Southwest or the Italian peninsula, and their titles evoke their geographical and cultural sources. Elsewhere, the show provides six small acrylic studies on paper as a window onto the artist's process of abstraction. Two of the studies are clearly the basis for two larger finished oils, while the others show how rocks and bushes can become lines and colors before being presented as final, more formal compositions. Notably, this whole group is identified by compass locations, rather than place names, in the titles.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas
Other work in the show comprises a middle period in which Brodie applied his rendering skill and affinity for dimensionally plastic paint dabs to a range of subjects that he pointedly treats equally. These include shoes, vegetables, bushes, figurines, and a hat - all lovingly portrayed, all blandly unembellished by commentary. Brodie's very dry sense of humor is most apparent in this period, and the paintings are very good - but I like it better when he gets a little more passionate.

This is a rare opportunity to see a beautifully installed collection of a lifetime of work by one of our region's foremost painters. Try to catch it while you can.

Scott Brodie, oil on canvas

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Feibes and Schmitt collection going to Hyde

By now many of you know that Werner Feibes has donated about a third of the extraordinary modern and contemporary art collection he amassed with his partner Jim Schmitt to The Hyde Collection in Glens Falls, as the news has been splashed all over local media (such as here by Paul Grondahl in the Times Union). The rest of the collection is promised to the Hyde as well, and Director Erin Coe rightly declares it "a transformational gift."

I'm excited for the Hyde, proud of my friend Werner, and sad for the recent loss of Jim ... but not surprised by this bequest, as I predicted it in a 2003 Metroland review, which I wrote when the Hyde mounted a superb exhibition called Form(ation) that was drawn from the Feibes and Schmitt collection. The news also brings to mind a story:

It was my good fortune sometime around 1985 to accompany Werner Feibes on a buying trip to a New York City gallery. At the time, I was a young gallery owner myself (in Albany), struggling to find customers for works by regional artists in the $300-to-$500 range. With Werner, I was exposed to quite another art world.

I don't recall the name of the gallery, but it was on the upper East Side of Manhattan and very elegant. Werner was there to see a Jean Arp relief constructed of painted wood, about 16 by 20 inches as I recall, in black and white (of course). The gallery presented it on a velvet-draped easel in a private room, where we murmured our approval and greedily eyed this vintage gem. The asking price was $15,000. Of course, Werner negotiated a discount, then coolly wrote a check for $13,500 - and, in a flash, we were on our way back up I-87 in Werner and Jim's boxy Volvo wagon (the Arp would be shipped).

I was totally speechless (think about that, you who know me personally!). I had just seen how art dealers really operated, and how sharp collectors did, too. The money that changed hands so easily was almost equal to my entire annual income (and I worked a lot of hours to earn it), but I didn't doubt that the Arp was well worth it. Neither do I doubt that it is now worth at least 15 times as much. It was a beautiful work of art and I hope to see it again some day at the Hyde.

Werner's generosity in inviting me on that trip was genuine, but this donation is beyond generous. The collection has been appraised for several million dollars; yet Werner's comment to  Grondahl was "What the hell would I do with all that money?" Good point - the true collector thinks about value in a different way than most of us. In the meantime, Werner still gets to live with the rest of the artwork, then it all goes to the Hyde upon his death. I wish him a very long life.