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The return of the native — sort of

David Brewster at PAFA

2 minute read
<em>Burned Out Shingle Style</em>, 48 x 40 inches, Oil on Mi-Tientes, 2013
<em>Burned Out Shingle Style</em>, 48 x 40 inches, Oil on Mi-Tientes, 2013

“I don’t feel at all obligated to describe nature.” ~ David Brewster

I first encountered David Brewster’s work several decades ago, when he was studying in Philadelphia (first at PAFA, then at Penn under Neil Welliver). At the time, he was painting moody studies of Philadelphia’s industrial wastelands, and I remember being struck by the sheer vigor of the brushwork. What could have been merely sad depictions of lost opportunity became urgent shrieks of a way of life giving up the ghost. In one painting, the tiny golden arches of a McDonald’s were off in the distance, suggesting either Paradise Lost or Heaven, depending on your perspective. But I suspect that Brewster painted those arches simply because they were there, with no symbolic meaning intended.

Over the years Brewster’s subject matter changed, becoming more rural, but his work has never lost that fierce sense of urgency. This is a man who loves putting paint to canvas. (So much so that he now uses rollers rather than brushes — and sometimes even his hands, à la van Gogh.) His work, with its desire to capture the very passage of time, is almost a form of Futurism. Brewster doesn’t blow his images apart; instead, his furor transforms them from within. An abandoned farmhouse by Brewster isn’t a jigsaw image of angles and fragments — it’s a farmhouse transformed by his vision into something more than a literal image. In some ways Brewster’s work reminds me of that of Charles Burchfield. The older artist is more lyrical than Brewster, but both have the knack of transforming the real into a vision of something more — something we call Art.

This is a small show — 15 paintings in all — but it’s one that deserves to be seen. Philadelphia’s loss was the state of Vermont’s gain, but it is nice having Brewster back for a visit.

What, When, Where

“Confluences: New Paintings by David Brewster” will be on display in the Alumni Sales Gallery of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 North Broad Street, through December 1. 215-391-4187 pafa.edu/alumnigallery.

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