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A crab dons a chromatic carapace against a brickwork background that seems to speak to it in pastel whispers. Might it scuttle backward across silent seas of submerged antiquity? (It's surely joined in with mermaids singing each to each.) From Earth's abundant calcium carbonate it houses its biological essence, yet its spiritual home seems anchored to the night sky, where gaseous planets and watery worlds remain undiscovered by distant kin on solid ground. Does it dare disturb the universe? If human voices try to wake it, they (not it) will drown. [Text (c) 2021 by Thomas Brodhead]
Painting:Oil on Canvas
Size:30 W x 24 H x 0.5 D in
A native of St. Louis who’s lived in middle Tennessee most of his life, Thomas Brodhead studied classical music theory, history, and composition at Oberlin in the 1980s. During those years, he pored over classical scores while studying orchestral and chamber works, unaware that he was absorbing geometric graphic design that’s been in his blood ever since. After college, he worked as a classical sheet music editor and engraver (music typesetter) for 20 years, writing original computer programs to set music notation so that it conformed to the best Greek proportions and geometries. (Importantly, he produced a Critical Performing Edition of the Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives, a work so rhythmically complex that it requires at least two—if not three—conductors to perform.) But arranging black glyphs on white paper grew tiresome, and starting in 2009, he turned to color and began to paint. At first, his paintings were cartoonish and comical, always paired with tongue-in-cheek artist statements on the meaning of each piece. Over time, though, he began to take his work more seriously, exploring color and geometry on large canvases (up to 4 feet by 3 feet), but never failing to pen an accompanying whimsical statement. But more and more the whimsy veiled serious social commentary, often on the dangers of transhumanism (the integration of humans and technology) and the infantilizing effects of social media. Painting and writing thus combined in a Wagnerian Gesamtkunswerk, in which the combination of the two formed the total artwork. He joked that his early humorous style—cartoonish and splattery, with an emphasis on narrative—was “on an overlooked axis connecting Jackson Pollock and Norman Rockwell.” But after studying the color theory of Albert Munsell and discovering the joyous geometries of the artist Stuart Davis, his work took a sharp turn. Still working on larger canvases, he began planning each work in detail, defining the exact composition of its figures and determining its color scheme in advance. The execution of the paintings took longer and longer, one even clocking in at 160 hours. Borrowing a technique from 20th century classical music—and a technique perhaps never before applied to visual art—he produced a series of fractalized paintings that, at times, have a dizzying paint-by-numbers quality.
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