Brendan Carroll and the Art of the Brush Stroke

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Brendan Carroll, Ripped Cracked and Smeared (Hudson and Church), 2013; oil and rubber cement on canvas, 56 by 46 inches.
Brendan Carroll, Ripped Cracked and Smeared (Hudson and Church), 2013; oil and rubber cement on canvas, 56 by 46 inches.

Looking at contemporary art can be a quick and definitive process. Make a snap judgment or suspend judgment in order to familiarize yourself with the idiosyncrasy before you. Judging art is a process of moving forward, making a way for new pictorial strategies or updated riffs on older ones, for new objects or gestures that meet the ever-shifting and enormously determinant ideological demands of the moment. For a contemporary maker, prioritizing recognition over reading into seems modest, but it requires the viewer to know less about the painting and more about the intentions of the painter. Regardless of a painting’s pictorial depth, it becomes flat, a map that reveals more about ideological demands and preconceived symbolic value than raw sensation.

Re:Focus a photo exhibition on view at Swan Coach House in Atlanta through October 27

Brendan Carroll‘s exhibition of paintings at {Poem88} works a flat terrain. Calligraphic brush strokes crowd carefully planned and shimmering surfaces of more brush strokes. Intriguing spatial ambiguities abound. For a flat guy, Carroll exhibits a real sensitivity to the illusion of space. Window Wall and Screens (Porch) and Window Walls and Screens (Aye Davanita), both oil on canvas, employ hazy brown, red, and yellow backdrops that foreground plain but animate tensile squiggles. The paintings read like a mixture of Josh Smith and Carroll Dunham without the vaginas. The artist interrogates his singular stroke through repetition and distortion.

Ripped Cracked and Smeared (Double Paned), 2013; oil, tinted latex rubber and rubber cement on canvas, 56 by 46 inches.

The exhibition is hung in chronological order. As the works progress around the gallery, moving from older to more recent, their material breaks down. Ripped Cracked and Smeared (Double Paned) is composed of oil, tinted latex rubber, and rubber cement on canvas. In his newer paintings, imagery remains the same but more radically compressed and drained of atmosphere. The top layers of the paintings are sloughing off to reveal more layers underneath. This approach seems less optimistic than the jubilant Ripped Cracked and Smeared (Hudson and Church), whose exposed under-painting resemble party streamers.

Devoid of gimmicks, almost every step of the process of painting is transparent in the early work, from the choice of brush size to the sequencing of layer application. The muddy and muted approach of the recent paintings avoids even more visual tricks. The lack of pictorial space in favor of three-dimensional space represents a shift in the work from a focus on an interpretable interior space shared with a viewer to a flat ideological plane of action.

In the exhibition’s press release, Carroll compares his paintings to a digital screen. Presumably, interactive content dissolves the viewing device in a way that suppresses real engagement, fostering the painted equivalent of, say, “reality” TV shows. By flattening space and asserting surface, Carroll controls the channel. The philosophical bearing has a faint retrograde whiff but provides for a colorful theater of void and meaning.

Windows, Walls, and Screens (Porch), 2012; oil on canvas, 52 by 46 inches.
Windows, Walls, and Screens (Porch), 2012; oil on canvas, 52 by 46 inches.

Eric Hancock is an Atlanta-based artist and independent researcher. He has served as adjunct Professor of Art Foundations at the Art Institute of Atlanta and the Art Institute of Austin.


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