Sunday, November 29, 2009

Michael de Brito, figurative painter

Leslie Lohman was closed (for Thanksgiving?), and so KM brought me to Eleanor Ettinger Gallery on Spring Street to see an artist he aspires to be. Michael de Brito, 29, paints his Portuguese American family around a dining table, presided over by his Grandma. The paintings are photographic in their ability to capture the social interaction and the bric-a-brac around the table, but they are also wholly paintings in their confident brushstrokes.

Here they are, these people who would have looked so familiar if you pass them on the street, but who look so strange--or is the word, fresh--in a painting. The ubiquitous mineral water bottle appears familiar and strange too on the dining table. Traditional technique but novel subjects. Novel not only because contemporary but also culturally particularized. Not culturally theorized but particularized. Not detail instead of theory, but detail as theory. No ideas but in things.

And the technique so proudly recalling the Old Masters, for their authority and their mantle, this technique has also absorbed lessons from modern painters. The composition of the paintings, their tables slanting so precipitously towards the viewer, reminds me of Bonnard and Matisse, as does the loving attention to fabrics. A masterful and open style then. Where will it go next, when it has so many years ahead of it?


Shropshirelad said...

These paintings are gorgeous: complex, colorful, composed, and slightly mysterious. They remind me of Alexander Pope for some reason:

Now then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man...

Jee Leong Koh said...

They are good, aren't they. Your Pope quote now makes me wonder why the absence of religion in the paintings. Perhaps I just missed it.

Shropshirelad said...

I wasn't really thinking of God per se. Just Man.

I like to see people in paintings for some reason. Something in that poem Shield of Achilles, by Auden, always resounds in my head when I see a depopulated canvas:

A plain without a feature, bare and brown,
No blade of grass, no sign of neighborhood,
Nothing to eat and nowhere to sit down,
Yet, congregated on its blankness, stood
An unintelligible multitude,
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.

Out of the air a voice without a face
Proved by statistics that some cause was just
In tones as dry and level as the place:
No one was cheered and nothing was discussed;
Column by column in a cloud of dust
They marched away enduring a belief
Whose logic brought them, somewhere else, to grief.

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