Walk into the Fred Giampietro Gallery on Chapel Street, and you are surrounded by 23 square canvases of green-blue tones. Walk even closer to the paintings, and an ocean of gold, red and textured patterns reveals itself carved out of the canvas. Glance at the list of titles, and suddenly a green square in a painting is transformed into a rock, poem or emotion.
Currently on view until Nov. 11 is the exhibit “Riley Brewster: recent paintings and works on paper with works by Steven Powers.” The exhibition presents the abstract work of Brewster ART ’82 opposite Powers’ richly textured paintings.
From the entrance of the gallery, the calming blue, green and gray canvases seem as though cut from a great swath of a uniform color. Upon approaching each work, the layers of textures and colors slowly reveal themselves. Brewster’s work seeks to invite the viewer to approach more closely until every detail and secret is divulged. The painting “palimpsest” demonstrates this dual nature. A palimpsest is a manuscript written on a surface from which the original writing has been effaced, and Brewster uses a palette knife to carve out texture and depth in the oil paint, revealing the layers of detail that lie beneath the surface and thus creating one painting beneath another.
In Brewster’s work, the relationship between abstract forms is reimagined as tangible objects, poetry, a lonesome state of mind or a sound, depending on the title of the work. Hung in the back left corner, one of the smaller canvases invokes an ocean of hazy blue in which a light green square floats in the bottom left. Once the title “the exact rock” is disclosed, this light green square seems to ground the painting, rather than hover in space. With this knowledge, the viewer loses the freedom to imagine the square as anything other than a rock, and suddenly the square takes on a new meaning relative to the rest of the space.
The emotional connection of viewers to the painting is also impacted, as the phrase “the exact rock” imposes an individuality, allowing viewers to connect personal experiences to the painting, such as the pebble stuck in one’s shoe on the way to class.
Of Brewster’s 23 works hung in the gallery, seven of them are created with a combination of graphite, inks, watercolors, charcoal and crayon on paper, rather than with the oil-on-canvas method. The seven smaller works on paper are framed and protected behind glass panes, while the other 16 are left unframed such that the viewer can see how the frame and canvas were assembled.
The lack of any restricting frame around the abstract canvases amplifies their evocative power and transmission of raw emotion, while the untitled works are presented at a distance of the viewer due to the barrier of the protective glass. Brewster emphasizes this impersonal connection by avoiding branding the works on paper with imaginative titles. Instead, each work is left as “untitled” and paired with a number, which evokes the sense that these works are part of a larger set.
In contrast to the muted earthy tones of Brewster’s works, Riley Powers’ paintings pop out with vivid colors. Powers evokes broken branches and pitted rocks through a thick application of oil paint, which creates a jagged texture that surpasses the frame and invades the viewer’s space. Powers’ paintings loudly and exuberantly shout from across the gallery, while Brewster’s works exude a sense of calm through their subtle pattern.
Brewster’s works are also reminiscent of abstract expressionism; the all-encompassing dim blue and murky green hues of the canvases bring to mind Helen Frankenthaler’s immense color fields, and Brewster’s repetition of the square evokes Josef Albers’ lengthy experimentation with color theory and this geometric pattern.
Although the exhibit presents the works of both Brewster and Powers, Powers’ paintings are hung in a far corner. The physical separation limits the ability of Brewster’s and Powers’ paintings to interact with one another. However, the visual juxtaposition between Brewster’s soft, muted abstractions and Powers’ vivid, urgent hues enhances the other’s intense emotions.
Brewster successfully combines abstraction with descriptive titles in order to create a space for each viewer to connect personal memories with abstract forms, allowing the mind to wander and closely examine each piece. The exhibition creates a place halted in time as if viewers are floating in one of Brewster’s pieces, encouraging viewers not only to reevaluate the relationship between painting and titles, but also to reexamine their own relationship to the paintings through close observation.
The Fred Giampietro Gallery, located at 1064 Chapel St., will host a Sweet Spot Series this Sunday, Oct. 29, at 2 p.m. with an artist talk by Brewster and a musical performance by Elm City Consort.
Brewster was educated at Bowdoin College in Maine, and he received his MFA in painting from Yale.
Chloé Glass | email@example.com .