If William Wordsworth ever decides to drop by New Haven, his first stop will likely be Erector Square, where his influence is alive and well.
The work of two painters on display there, though wildly different, both seem to prove that the old Romantic poet’s adage has never been truer: that the child is indeed the father of the man. Especially for the artist.
And maybe extra especially so for an artist with young kids.
The Fred Giampietro Gallery is giving New Hampshire-based Lucy Mink her first solo show, filling the large space of the Peck Street gallery with 13 of her cool, large, volumetric oil on linen abstracts. Her show is engagingly titled it’s got me, it’s got you.
I know the first half of that statement is correct, and I think the second as well.
She’s paired with Farrell Brickhouse, whose Wishes, Prayers, and Offerings consists of far smaller and far more painterly—thickly applied and pigmented—works.
Brickhouse’s compositions feature child-like stick figures in various stages of journeying, questing, and striving. But only a child who is also a man could have painted these.
The effect of the thickly painted background is that these figures, though they may be about to take off or arrive, have come through a lot of, well, crap. Terra firma is still very much there, tethering their mythological dreams to sticky earth.
Mink’s cavernous shapes don’t have a human or human vestige in sight. Yet the effect as you look at them is an invitation to enter and to explore. Although she eschews all representation, she has created a human spelunker’s dream, a child’s experience of turning the pages of a by turns scary by turns irresistible Maurice Sendak-like terrain.
Mink, whose two kids are now 7 and 9, said her work got more disciplined when she became a mom. She had to make use of what time she could wrest from her round-the-clock new responsibilities.
“I had to find a way to keep myself sane. You have to be able to stop the painting and take the kids to pre-school. I had to find a way to make use of what little time I had.”
She adamantly denies any direct influence of her kids or child-rearing on her work, and especially doesn’t want to hear the kids’ reviews. But the influence is there.
How could it not be? Doesn’t a parent always think about the kids, even when consciously not thinking? she asked rhetorically.
“When the kids were small, I did very small paintings. I’ve been able to get bigger since they’ve had a longer school day,” she said at the show’s opening, which drew 40 people to the gallery despite the icy weather.
What’s also changed since about 2009 is depth. The work with broad red swaths on the right [pictured] is an older composition and called “This is the best day I’ve ever had.”
It’s a line Mink’s daughter would often utter; mother thought it both ridiculous and also wonderful enough to choose as a title.
The older work is far flatter than what’s beside it, “The sweet thing,” which begins to have layering that grows into more depth of field and the accompanying mystery of cave upon cave, which are not really physical caves but still have that effect, that evolves in the newer works.
“It’s not imagery” of kids that animates the new work, she said adamantly. “The work has been in me since I was a kid.”
Tales of an Older Kid
Brickhouse, who now lives on Staten Island, said he was a pioneering art settler in Soho doing well received work and was represented by the Max Protech Gallery, who also sold Andy Warhol in the early years. His early work were painterly too, he said, but included abstract and collaged multimedia creations as well.
Then there was a long creative hiatus, said Brickhouse, who now also teaches at Manhattan’s School of Visual Arts. He still painted, and taught, and showed, but he also journeyed within, he said.
When he emerged, he was a different kind of artist.
“I’m a storyteller. Not a lot of theory behind there,” he said as he stood in front of his figures. “My wife is my muse.”
“There we are,” he said, pointing to one image. I’m leading her to our cabin.”
In other compositions, which seem to echo some of the moody dark pallette of Albert Pinkham Ryder, they are arguing about the disposition of property in Montauk. Of course Montauk is also anywhere. In another the figures are flying, or standing on the shoulders of other figures below them.
In one of his most recent works (pictured), Brickhouse said, he was trying to capture “what it was like to discover fire.”
He deliberately painted that image on a notched and damaged piece of wood that fell into his Staten Island yard from a repair job that hisneighbor was doing too close to his property.
Do we have one story to tell in infinite ways? Or an infinite number of stories to tell? he asked.
Brickhouse didn’t answer his own question directly but added; “I make the mythic personal, and the personal mythic.”
I’m not sure why Fred Giampietro linked these artists, but I am grateful for it. It just goes to show that there are many and sometimes contradictory-seeming routes to wonder.
That may not be a revelation, but it’s worth being reminded of.
Also showing with Mink and Brickhouse in a smaller installation at Giampietro is Rebeca Lowry. She is showing painted wood reliefs. These works have more paint and more sheen and gleam than we saw at her last show at City Gallery last summer.