“My goal is to see how far I can stretch within the confines of realism.”
Paintings are pictures of things, so what sets one “picture” apart from the others in a room full of pictures of things? Perhaps it’s in the individual aesthetic and the imaginative choices each artist makes and in how the materials themselves speak for the artist.
“What can set one painting apart from the other,” according to portrait and plein-air oil painter Lon Brauer, “is the way in which the materials are manipulated to make that picture. A painted image is an abstraction. It is a series of shapes and patterns that relate to what we think we know about the world around us.”
For Brauer, the painting process can be broken down into two principle aspects – the subject and what he calls “the mechanics.” The painter is enamored, he says, with how paint moves on the surface of a painting under his hands.
“I use brushes of course, but also try my hand with sandpaper, serrated knives, sticks, rags and whatever may give me an interesting mark,” he says. “The mark-making describes not only the subject and form of the painting, it also lends credence to the hand of the painter. My hands are all over my work in some way or another.”
Brauer’s esthetic mixes early 20th Century Realism with influences from modernism, the golden age of illustration, and a sprinkling of both Impressionism and, most potently, Abstract Expressionism. The result in a mash-up of the traditional and the avant garde., something of a salad of Eakins, Henri, Wyeth, and DeKooning, with perhaps the colors of Claude Monet and the Boston School. An early grounding in science and, a little later, work in illustration and experimental photography, give Brauer a distinctly thoughtful if not, somehow, speculative approach to painting.
“Dad was a pharmacist,” he says, “and I was tapped to do the same. But I had always leaned heavy on art throughout my early years, and that was where the passion lived.“ Brauer found himself turning early interests in biology and earth sciences into subjects for his artwork as he developed. (Though he started college as a biology major, he switched to art as his primary focus, concentrating on both painting and graphic design.)
“I look for things that I’ve never seen before or that I think will live within the broad world of art-making with some relevance,” he says. “It’s the editing process that dictates whether something hits the wall or not. I drive my paintings only to a point. I let the work itself have a hand in the final result.”
Following graduation from college, he landed a part-time gig with a photography studio that eventually turned into a 30-year career as one of St. Louis’s top shooters. Through the years he worked with both advertising agencies and design firms in the St. Louis area shooting product and photo illustration for print. Working with large-format cameras set up a unique way of seeing imagery through the rectangle of a ground glass and became fascinated by the possibilities: “upside-down images, swings and tilts, lenses of various focal lengths, dramatic lighting, multiple exposure, and darkroom razzle-dazzle.” In the days before Photoshop, Brauer pioneered unusual ways to see and transform the ordinary through mechanical means.
“The subject of a painting is only a part of the story,” he says. For Brauer, the painting is also be about the paint itself as it describes the subject. For it is there that he feels emotion enters and invests the “picture” with the sense of story, with all of the thought and emotion that goes with it. “The way the paint is applied and manipulated,” he says, “speaks to the making of an image and drives the narrative – the emotional narrative.”
“All paintings have a narrative,” he stresses.”That narrative can be the image or it can be the materials. Or it can be both. Representational art requires a firm structural foundation in drawing. There is no way around that. There needs to be believability in the image, and that comes from some sort of grounding. Once that is established, the artist can hang paint all day long — in a myriad of ways and a plethora of materials — to describe the vision with innovation.”
Brauer’s self-portraits, of which he’s done more than a few, are portraits of the artist not just in the send of likeness, but in the traces of his personality and his deeper self embedded in the paint itself. “The means and method to making … speaks to an aggressive rawness of hand and mind – the common man in all of us.”
Brauer elaborates and illustrates his method through demonstration in a video titled Abstract Figure Painting.
Art as a Force of Healing, for Individuals and Society
When artist Guadalupe Maravilla discovered he had cancer, it became clearer than ever to him that one of art’s primary roles is to heal the psyche by endeavoring to heal the invisible wounds of the human soul. His artwork blends ritual, cultural heritage, personal history, sculpture, sound, bones, gongs, archetypes, and earth in visceral yet spiritual installations. His story and his important and inspiring work is documented in a short video from Art21.
In the paint,