Robert Brinker: “Chasing Dragons”

at Michael Warren Contemporary

“Zombie Strippers Dragon,” 2016, Robert Brinker
Cut paper, 62″ x 48″
Photo: courtesy Michael Warren Gallery

Aspen-based artist Robert Brinker’s solo, “Chasing Dragons” at Michael Warren Contemporary, was made up of highly idiosyncratic work in which the artist crosses traditional Chinese folk art with contemporary American pop culture. The genesis of this imaginative approach dates back to 2007 when Brinker created a suite of works for an exhibition in Beijing organized by Alfred University. For those pieces, Brinker adopted the Chinese paper-cut method, in which paper is cut with razors so that the resulting shape conveys a recognizable subject; it’s an age-old craft in China. But the specific sheets of paper Brinker chose to cut were unexpected since they were originally the covers and centerfolds from pornographic magazines, with the piercing partially hiding the explicit content.

That group of cut-paper pieces took the form of chrysanthemums, but he’s gone on to carry out various series based on other Chinese archetypes, with dragons, as seen in the main space at Michael Warren Contemporary, being among his latest interests. Brinker has collected antique paper cuts of warriors, flowers, vases and dragons, and adapts these shapes in his own works. The resulting pieces are complex in form and in imagery leading viewers to invariably make a visual shift as they look at them. Initially the shape suggested by the cut paper, in this case a dragon, is immediately discernible; then in an instant, the X-rated shots of which it’s comprised, become perceivable. In Zombie Strippers Dragon (2016), for instance, the composition is, on one level, a depiction of a flying serpentine dragon, with linear clouds floating above and below; and on another it’s a nude woman that stares at us over her shoulder.

Although the pieces involve a lot of hand-work, there’s also a digital component. It might be expected that the elaborate cutting was done with lasers guided by a computer program, but in fact, Brinker has used an X-Acto knife to execute them by hand. It’s the entire piece that has been digitized as a way of enlarging it and transferring it onto high quality paper, a process carried out by Boston’s Singer Editions. Brinker then goes in again, cutting the printed images away from the paper. In addition to these Chinese-sourced works, he also creates abstract and non-objective paintings and cut-paper collages, as well as artist books and photos; considered in sum, these works prove Brinker both a highly capable and wildly experimental artist.