Two recent paintings by James Brinsfield

August 1, 2020

This time, let’s consider two recent paintings by James (Jim) Brinsfield, Space Mob (left) from May 2020, and Hat and Beard from spring 2019.

Space Mob, 78” x 64”, 2020
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Hat and Beard, 84” x 60”, 2019
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Continuing with his ongoing series of paintings that includes Long Division from 2017, Jim typically leaves ample space within the painting rectangle for his lines, blocks, drawing, and colors to breathe.  His boldest marks do not explicitly address the edges of the canvas, and by leaving this edge space, he allows us to see his compositions not just at the scale they are, but also for us to be aware that it could be a vast scale and scene we are looking into.

Jim loves to draw and he gives us plenty of line work to follow in all of his recent paintings.  Space Mob’s bold dark lines suggest action, movement, and depth.  And the soft grey lines give comfort to the action figures and connect the central area with the lower left.  In Hat and Beard, a multitude of thin, parallel lines provide a potential path for moving one’s eye around the painting.  Though they may “dead-end”, those dead ends are jumping-off points to the blocks of color.  In turn, those blocks of color are another means to move around the painting. Moving through Space Mob in a different way, if the butter and acid yellow on the right is shelter, then the orange is the corridor connecting the shelter to the mottled black broadcast station.  And a circle of movement is created in Hat and Beard as we start anywhere among the grey, yellow, black, orange, and pink blocks and easily move either direction.

There is a thoughtful balance in these paintings through those same elements of open edge space, drawing, and blocks of color, plus light and dark, and warm and cool.  In distinct balance in Space Mob are: the drawing vs. the blocks of color, the amount of “empty” space vs. painted shapes, and the cool lower half of the painting vs. the warm upper half.  Whereas Space Mob’s “action” is squarely centered, the density of painting is shifted toward the bottom in Hat and Beard.  Still, this bottom density remains in balance with the warm greys and yellows in the upper third.  While we may struggle to identify which is the hat and which the beard, regardless, we see that the forward dark shapes are finely balanced by the two yellows, orange, pink and warm grey.  We find that all it takes to balance the warm colors in Hat and Beard is the bold, vertical, turquoise stroke on the right.

From knowledge of Jim’s past work, we know among many other things, he is concerned with surveillance by governments and others.  For example, reference his Split Level with Satellites (mixed media, 2004), where this is explicit. Sometimes he represents that concern less directly in his work.  If that is the case here, then we may see that our way to the shelter could be barred in Space Mob by telecommunication poles.  And in Hat and Beard, the thin parallel lines may mean our communications are monitored.  But in a hopeful sign, the frayed “cable” in the lower right may indicate the system is unplugged.

Split Level with Satellites, 27” x 35”, 2004
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Long Division, 78” x 62”, 2017
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We invite you to make your own observations of Jim’s work in this recent series.

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