Eastside Culture Crawl: Getting back to the brushes

At this year’s Eastside Culture Crawl, a strong contingent of painters is wielding oils and acrylics in exciting new ways.

by VIVIAN PENCZ on NOV 13, 2013 at 1:10 PM

LOCATED AT 1000 Parker, the extraordinarily candid Thompson Brennan has been drawing and painting professionally since 1972. Throughout his extensive artistic career, he’s dabbled in almost every medium there is, even welding weapons into sculptures during one hyperpolitical phase. And as the art world churned through its cycles, so did Brennan. But painting is his constant anchor. He compares the resurgence of traditional painting to the so-called comeback of vinyl records.

“There is a tyranny of photography and electronic media in the arts right now, and there may be a shift happening as a counter to the digital revolution—as an understanding that the digital world has its drawbacks,” says Brennan, patting the shaggy mane of his lumbering dog, Jazz. “Painting is more tactile. It has depth. A painting does not work unless you have a conversation with it. And I think people want conversation, human contact, something real that makes us feel. I like to see the artist’s hand in something, and photography has a barrier, for me.”

Gesturing grandly with his hands, he goes on: “The digital world is an ocean, and it’s powerful. It has its rip currents, it’s washed over us now, and this is my way of swimming. Doing painting connects me to the world. The issue for painting is, how does it stay relevant? But I think, for me, it stays relevant in the person. And then maybe that changes somebody else because they see it.”

Brennan attempts to stay personally relevant by never limiting himself in his creative process, sometimes using his hands, trowels, and sticks to paint, or spraying paint at the canvas, and loving the “primal” aspect of the work. He has also begun to look more outward for aesthetic inspiration.

Hence his latest series, “Dirty Pretty”, which celebrates the surprising glimpses of gritty beauty that can be stumbled upon in a weathered, decaying urban landscape—for example, the bold contrast between eroding blue paint and the textured orange wood beneath in Leaning Door, or the multilayered pastiche of graffiti tags on a stained wall or dumpster in Dirty Pretty 2. This is traditional artwork with a strikingly contemporary perspective. In Brennan’s words, “I’m just holding up a mirror and saying, ‘This is what I see, and I see some beauty in it every day.’”