Colin Brant at Adam Baumgold Gallery

Colin Brant, We Rule The School (2008), oil on canvas, 30″ x 40″; courtesy Adam Baumgold Gallery

* * *

Eccentricity isn’t a virtue in and of itself, but it has its attractions.

Take the paintings of Colin Brant, on display at the Adam Baumgold Gallery. Mr. Brant apes the conventions of 19th-century American painting, especially folk painting, and uses them to invent faux-historical panoramas of parks. His fabrications are particular and convincing: You’ll have a hard time telling yourself that Sylvan Pond Panorama (2002) isn’t Central Park. History, art and geography are Mr. Brant’s subjects–or, rather, his toys. Whether referencing Thomas Cole, romancing Arcadia or competing with the pictures hanging at the local Elks Lodge, Mr. Brant engages in a dry-witted game of cultural bait-and-switch. His “pastoral outings” hew closely to the standards set by precedent–so closely that one could almost mistake these stoic fictions for the real thing.

As a stylist, Mr. Brant knows his stuff. His work’s keening light is pure Hudson River School theater, and the compositions (darkened foregrounds set against distant, sparkling vistas) parody pictorial formula. The mannequin-like figures dotting the landscapes–a bagpiper, a quartet of women in Spanish dress, boys swimming in the lake–connote, albeit it with tongue in cheek, the civilizing influence of cultivated greenery.

If you’ve stuck with the paintings this long, you’ll note how their gentle mockery is a form of love: Mr. Brant’s brand of irony precludes condescension or distaste. He’s a far cry from a cynical operator like John Currin. Mr. Brant is closer in temperament to a genuine oddball like Louis Eilshemius. That doesn’t make him genuine or, for that matter, an important artist. It does make him a painter capable of piquing–and sustaining–your curiosity.

© 2004 Mario Naves

Originally published in the May 3, 2004 edition of The New York Observer.

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