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HIDE AND SEEK

Abstract expressionism is the bane of the uninitiated. Paintings of this type have no discernable subject and typically look sloppy, covered with scribbles, drips and scratches. They're the kind of thing people are talking about when they say "My kid could do that." But to artists, the problem of creating...
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Abstract expressionism is the bane of the uninitiated. Paintings of this type have no discernable subject and typically look sloppy, covered with scribbles, drips and scratches. They're the kind of thing people are talking about when they say "My kid could do that."

But to artists, the problem of creating credible abstract-expressionist paintings is a formidable one: Not only can't the typical kid make one, neither can most painters. In Colorado, only a few artists have successfully produced this kind of work. And it comes as quite a surprise to find among this select group Edge Gallery co-director Mark Brasuell, who up to now has been known principally for his overtly political installations and sculptures. An exciting group of strong and accomplished paintings completed by Brasuell in the last three months is currently on display in the center space at Edge.

The exhibit's title, Closet Painter, refers to Brasuell's active efforts to keep his talent as a painter a secret. He's never presented his paintings as a group before. And as a consequence of not having a track record in the medium, he says he's worried about showing them now.

Brasuell's anxiety centers on whether viewers will understand his intentions; this time he aims to be more evocative than provocative. Brasuell's political art of the last five years has often been easy for viewers to read (literally), especially where the theme has been gay-related issues like the struggle against AIDS or homophobia. One well-known Brasuell piece from a few years ago incorporated a cut-out photo of basketball star Magic Johnson with a written legend that read "Thank God he's not gay."

But these new paintings are much more subtle. Even where the titles seem to give us some clues--such as in "Boat" and "Train"--Brasuell confesses that they don't reveal his original thought processes. "A lot of people see a seascape in `Boat,' but I wasn't thinking about it at all," he says. In fact, most of the titles were thought up by his companion, Steven Ross. The titles thus refer to what Ross, not Brasuell, saw in the paintings.

This decision to relinquish control over a part of his work reflects Brasuell's long-standing interest in the nature of the creative process and the role of the viewer in checking the artist's ego. (In 1994, in this same line, Brasuell went so far as to have other artists not only title his sculptures and installations but actually execute and sign them.)

Though Brasuell has not exhibited as a painter before, the medium isn't new to him. The motifs--simple shapes like spirals, triangles and circles--have shown up in his paintings for the last eight or nine years. But typically, Brasuell has viewed his work on canvas as mere preparation for his three-dimensional work. Lately, though, the artist has begun to feel that the paintings can stand on their own. And he's right.

Brasuell's method is the same for all of these works. He creates underpaintings using the spray-paint technique of a graffiti artist. He then paints over that first layer, to "edit out" some of the images he's already laid down and to give colors the necessary primer, allowing some to come through hazy while others wind up popping out.

The paintings are done on pieces of unstretched canvas that are larger than the stretcher-bar frames. Brasuell is thus able to adjust where the center of the composition will ultimately be. He also frequently turns a completed work upside down after he has finished it.

Unlike Brasuell's political art, the paintings in the Edge show are apparently the product of an art-for-art's-sake attitude on his part. With this wonderful group of closely related pieces, he says, his only aim was the creation of artworks that are "interesting and beautiful." And that's enough.

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