The details of Brett Amory’s journey from skateboarding in Chesapeake Bay to making art in the San Francisco Bay Area are well chronicled. Dormain Geyer profiled Brett on Arteaser and there are published interviews in Fecal Face, MyNinjaPlease.com and Sour Harvest. Brett interviews very well. The story of how he moved from skateboarding and snowboarding; to studying film making; to formally studying drawing; then, transitioning to painting is a fascinating story. I encourage everyone to read the profile and the interviews.
When we recently met, we started to re-visit the biographical details of his journey from Bay to Bay. I was duly taking notes, but realized that I was about to write a story that had already been written several times. So we changed directions. We began talking about the paintings that are currently showing in a group show: “Tri-Product” at Fabric8 Gallery here in San Francisco. This is the gallery where I first really noticed Brett’s work over a year ago. There is something about his paintings that resonates with me on a visceral level, and this is what we decided to explore.
The current series at Fabric8 are part of a larger body of work collectively titled “Waiting”. The first paintings in the “Waiting” series were straight-forward, graphic representations of the people he observed when commuting. He worked on these paintings from 2000 – 2003. In these first works, he more or less painted what he had detailed in the photographs that he had taken. The process was heavily informed by his professional work in Photoshop. As he points out, “Photoshop and computer manipulation are a huge part of why I’m an artist. I started doing Photoshop manipulations before I started painting and that was one of the things that got me into painting. So, I always wanted to tie those two things together”. After 2003, he moved on to several new series of works, experimenting with different mediums and techniques. Then, in 2007, he returned to the “Waiting” series.
The new works are anything but straight-forward. Where the first works in the series were more or less “what you see is what you get”; the new works really explore emotionally the original subject matter. What had first grabbed Brett’s attention when he started chronicling the commuters waiting for their chariots was the disconnect between their mental and physical locations. They were standing waiting for the bus or train, but they were really someplace else. Now, with a renewed energy, Brett began to explore that emotional landscape more intensely.
“Waiting 23” is one of the first works painted after he decided to re-visit the series in 2007. Three older women are waiting at a bus stop near a café. Brett is particularly drawn to older people who may have had a hard life. For him, they seem to be part of a different era. They dress without regard to modern fashion. Their thoughts do not seem to be rooted in the here and now. In this painting, he portrays the “here, but not really here” quality of the bus stop figures by actually repeating the same figure three times on the bench. He then separates them from their surroundings graphically with a lighter pink background. The figures are juxtaposed with the more fashionably attired young couple at the café, who are more clearly present both in the scene and in the “now”. Stylistically, the painting is transitional, strongly referencing the graphic design roots of the earlier series. It is much more tightly constructed than the other paintings in the show.
With “Waiting 48”, Brett is starting to, in his words, “let go of technique”. There is still a short film quality to the work. The figure walking along 14th Street is repeated three times. He passes by three girls standing and impatiently waiting for a bus. He passes by a woman seated on the street, a figure that Brett uses in several of his paintings. The real world woman is often seated on the street near Shooting Gallery on Larkin Street. She has lived a hard-scrabble life. She is rooted in her spot on the sidewalk, but her thoughts are miles away. The man walking along notices none of them.
In “Waiting 49” three figures wait at a bus stop in an abstracted landscape. The figures are also more abstracted. Brett paints in twenty minute sessions. He composes in Photoshop. Then he broadly lays in the composition on the painting. He adds in the figures. He paints them over. He adds them back in. It is subtraction by addition. Pushing and pulling. The final work seems simple, but as we both agreed – simple is difficult.
In many ways, the most interesting of the paintings in the current show is “Waiting 50”. The house in the painting is actually the house that Michael Jackson grew up in. Brett found an image of that house in a magazine. This is the one-bedroom house where, as Brett put it, “everything started”. Brett is also a musician and there is a clear fascination with the Michael Jackson’s roots. He populates the landscape again with the woman from Larkin Street. Here she is both panhandling on the street. But she is also the ghostly presence on the doorstep of the house. The ghostly separation of the house is emphasized further by the dramatic use of negative space in this work.
The final painting in the show is “Waiting 51”. Another figure is waiting at the bus stop. This painting has the most prominent use of the childlike figures sprinkled throughout the painting, like Easter eggs waiting to be discovered. Interestingly, the childlike birds, dogs and flowers are actually copies of drawings made by children. They are drawn in with graphite and not readily apparent. The idea is that the more you look at the painting, the more you will discover.
All of which brings me back to what is about Brett’s work that resonates with me? Some of his influences that we discussed were painters like Edward Hopper and photographers like Todd Hido. Like those artists, the works are ruminative without being specific. They capture the peculiar quality of aloneness that is unique to metropolitan life.
You can currently view Brett Amory’s work at Fabric6 Gallery through November 30th. He is also in group shows at Gallery Heist, opening November 14th and at Double Punch Gallery opening on November 21st. Or, you can contact Brett through his website to arrange to view works at his studio.