Exhibition Reviews | Visual Arts

Deborah Hake Brinkerhoff

Last year Denis Phillips remarked to me that a successful work, “allows the viewer to look at something and let it take them wherever it may. We all come from different places and our minds are all oriented in different ways.” Non-objective works like Phillips’ can be good catalysts for such exploration; but even works with reference to form, like the paintings of Deborah Hake Brinckerhoff, can be open doors to communication — a requisite for any good art today.

When I learned Brinckerhoff would be showing later this month at Phillips Gallery, I set my course for the top floor of the Guthrie Studios to get to know the artist and understand her work — which invites and challenges with the same swoosh of the brush. I wanted to understand how she approaches a blank canvas and with her personal iconography transforms it into a composition that will ultimately create, in her words, “a free flow between the painter and the viewer.”

Works of art can be understood both by logic and sensibility, but with Brinckerhoff the latter is by far the more useful. “I am aware that my work is fueled by emotion and when I create a figure I know that body just can’t do that,” Brinckerhoff told me. “I’m not trying to make any statements with my paintings but for me the painting is more about the energy and less about what it looks like.” The subjects for the current body of large works are human figures painted with complete license and artistic freedom and are… obscure, each seemingly drawn by a different hand and by a different imagination.

The drawing that occupies the left side of one of the pieces for the Phillips show, “The Great Flying Francini,” is nothing more than a coarse line sketch. What is marvelous about this canvas is, although the figure is hardly a figure, the canvas bursts with streaks of white, yellows, a bold dash of red, strokes that are heavy here and loose there. The classically trained Brinckerhoff paints abstracted energy in leaps and bounds, and it turns out that the figure is actually a copy of a sketch done by the artist’s young son and these leaps and bounds are the emotional response to her son’s boundless energy. Of course the viewer will never know this unless they get to know the artist to whom this is very personal, but to most this canvas is capricious and vivacious. I am closer to understanding the artist’s work, in that with her consistencies lies a personal point of departure. I learned quickly after seeing “The Hanging” that Brinckerhoff does not always have a point of departure.

“The Hanging” is a square, dark figure filled with black. There is some semblance of a small off-set head and a body whose only natural corporeality consists of four appendages. Brinckerhoff has no “story” for this figure although she states, “I’ve always been interested in the psychological level of the human condition and the body and seeing what the body can go through.”

Although this is not a departure in the sense of the personal story of the sketch with her son, this gives weight to the work. Brinckerhoff’s concentrated emotional energy is focused on the psychological level, and in “The Hanging,” we see intense, focused energy in the incomprehensible. The figure is a structure that seems to have been invented by the artist’s emotion and not vice versa. The figure exists at odds with itself in its illogical form and its mismatched surroundings. It is black against white and heaviness against airiness. But even without knowing the artist’s individual inspiration, the viewer will feel much from the work: tension, anxiety, contradiction, and opposition, along with uneasiness, fear, even the uncanny for some. I have discovered more of the mystery, that is, for the artist, her intensive use of emotion in her work.

“Breaking Plates” is again another inventive and utterly different figural creation painted with total artistic freedom brought to life by emotional energy. “All of my work is more emotional than it is literal,” says Brinckerhoff. “I feel like the paintings really have to have a life of their own” and to the senses they do. How could Brinckerhoff hope to achieve the desired “communication” with her audience without this emotional ingredient?

“Breaking Plates” is gruesome, compelling and charming. A sort of rag doll, this figure occupies more positive space on the canvas than any of her other paintings. The limbs break laws of physics, the colors are garish, the brushstrokes messy and yet the composition is addressed with such concerted emotion and love for the impossibility of the figure, that Brinckerhoff.’s emotional process makes this a first-rate abstraction that is alive with character and fully dimensional, at once irrational and yet totally natural.

Putting aside all tools of logic and deduction, knowing nothing about “Sink or Swim, “I try to appreciate it as any gallery-goer might, to experience the “free flow between the painter and the viewer.” I see a blithe, supernatural, intelligent and distinctive subject that truly “has a life of its own.” This is a figure that cannot help but engage my imagination with arms like tubes of rubber that grope in space, the small head bears an extra-terrestrial intelligence; the fecund body is preposterous and comic.

The figure is rendered with loose gestures that put me at ease with an artistic laissez-faire manner to the haphazard and the random acts of painting that seem unable to do wrong. The colors are fresh and the aureole of white enshrouding this frolicsome being is layered with tones to add to the mystical energy and wonders of this composite being that seems so natural. The composition delights and amuses me and I marvel at the contradictory state of the uninhibited painterly qualities of the composition depicting a subject so unique and so immeasurable to my senses. Like its counterparts, it seems a product of emotional energy and I experience feelings of awe, bafflement, curiosity and most surprisingly this absurd figure arouses in me a feeling of the sublime… a limitlessness mingled with some aspect of an unthreatening fear.

Visiting Brinckerhoff’s studio, I was instantly met with intrigue, curiosity, contemplation and delight in her work and I was determined to find rhyme and reason. Through our conversation I learned much about this unique artist who understands her work well and is able to speak fluently on her approach, or approaches. But some art is simply not meant to be bracketed and analyzed. Art such as this that is painted with an intensity of authentic emotion should and can be enjoyed on many levels. It is fresh, personal and explosive.



1 reply »

  1. Her work is amazing! She is probably the best abstract painter in Salt Lake. I hope she produces more and more work for the world to see

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