Gabe Brown: “Above Below” at Butters Gallery


Disjointed geometric motifs integrate seamlessly in Gabe Brown’s fantastical compositions. Wave forms, geodes, trees, and painterly drips seem to vault, arc, and float in an illusory space hailing from the lineage of Surrealism. In a suite of oil-on-linen paintings over wood panel and a smaller set of mixed-media works on paper, the Kingston, New York-based artist combines diverse imagery into what she terms “inner landscapes” and “narrative vignettes.” To be sure, these are not narratives in any traditional sense; while they do feature recurring symbols, there is no sense of characterization or time-driven plot. But the works do sketch a kind of visual story, albeit in broad strokes, akin to a fever-dream or psychedelic trip. In the paper piece Untitled #328 (2013), honeycomb forms and geodes hover above a passage of blocked color, which appears to spray out the end of a funnel like a mysterious energy source. Untitled #375 (2015) incorporates watercolor, ink, and pencil in a serpentine composition of segmented ovals in myriad strata. The fancifully titled Private Super-Nova (2011) is a paean to looping waves of color à la Karin Davie, heaped upon one another. Atop these twisting gestural ribbons, balanced as if on a knife’s edge, rests a cluster of multi-hued shapes, which in aggregate resembles a rough outline of a United States map.

A similar cluster of color-chunks clings together in an ominous, pink-hued sky in the abstracted landscape titled Slipstream (2013). Beneath the nucleated shapes lies a spartan hill dusted with burnt trees. Notably, the artist invests this scorched-earth tableau with the suggestion of hope and renewal, for just beneath the lonely tree stumps lies a network of green and lavender shapes that curve like a giant, subterranean laurel wreath. The wreath’s deepest-reaching leaves extend like fallopian fimbriae toward a grouping of bright white rocks or crystals. At the two spots where the wreath touches the hillside’s surface, white clouds spray into the sky, carrying, perhaps, a regenerative power from deep within the earth. And so from a seemingly whimsical grouping of shapes, Brown has conjured what might be viewed as a profound trajectory from environmental devastation to renaissance. Her paintings lend themselves to such allegorical interpretations, with their imagery drawn from the crossroads of the natural and the mystical.

In her perspectiveless, self-consciously lowbrow style, she composes romantic hymns to the organic world, with pagan undertones and transcendentalist overtones in haunting visual harmony.

Untitled #375
Gabe Brown
Watercolor, ink and pencil on paper
30″ X 22″
Photo: courtesy Butters Gallery