Scott Bricher's New Show Shares his 'Wunderkammer'

LItchfield County Times, September 13, 2012
Written by Jaimie Ferris

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During the Renaissance, collectors possessed remarkable cabinets of curiosities, known in English as Cabinets of Wonder, or, in German, as der Wunderkammer (wonder room) or das Kunstkammer (art-room). These Cabinets of Wonder often contained objects “whose categorical boundaries were not yet defined,” according to Kent artist Scott Bricher. Such objects might include things of great significance in the areas natural history, geology, ethnography, archaeology or perhaps religious or historical relics, antiquities and works of art.

Mr. Bricher has such a cabinet in his home, full of his family’s collected wonders. But the artist also has metaphorical cabinets of curiosities in the form of sketchbooks, each page harboring infinite creative possibilities for his art, and like the items in his Wunderkammer, they, too, appear in his creations. Each painting, he said, shares with viewers an object or objects that the artist sees as beautiful and intriguing, and whose forms have “lived” in his sketchbook for years. He said the term “stream of consciousness,” often used when referring to a narrative, describes his paintings, which are the narratives of a working mind, allowing his subconscious and imagination to create incredible mindscapes.

“I am reassured and find inspiration in dreams. I let my paintings develop their own ‘dream logic’ as they develop and unfold,” he explained. “I don’t always understand why I’ve chosen certain themes until long after a painting is completed. The images reflect themes in my life and yet I find that these personal archetypes have universal resonance.”

Now, they will develop and unfold in “Wunderkammer,” a solo exhibition of Mr. Bricher’s latest work at the Stairwell Gallery at the Gunn Memorial Library in Washington through Nov. 11.

The works for the exhibition, Mr. Bricher explained, originated from a dream he had several years ago in which he was in a room overlooking an overcast cobblestone alley below. He describes the room as being narrow with windows on three sides and glass-paned cabinets covering the walls.

“I was unable to see into the cabinets, but I knew the room was mine and found in it much comfort, reassurance, strength and mystery,” he recalls in a written statement about the show. “This dream was a turning point for me, and with its assistance I found more confidence in my life and art.

“This exhibition is an attempt to look into the dream cabinets of my Wunderkammer,” he later added. “The compositional forms presented here have lived in my sketchbooks for years. Some of the subjects are from an actual cabinet in which my family and I [have] an eccentric collection of objects. The encaustic glazes of the paintings represent the aged glass of the dream cabinets and the membrane that separates direct access to the images at the edge of my vision and imagination.”

Seeing, however, is believing in the case of these paintings, which are a departure from the work people are used to seeing come from Mr. Bricher’s brush. It is more whimsical and playful than his portraiture, landscape and still life work, but there remain elements of his traditional techniques. He finds elements and themes in his life, such as the game Candyland, for instance, an old television set his parents had in their basement, comic book characters from his youth like Little Lotta, and even Barbie dolls, which find their way into this new body of work. Each, he said, has a story to tell.

“These are ideas that have grown in the background, that have germinated; that’s what these paintings are,” he said. “It’s only now that I have come to understand what they are and what they mean. They come together very intuitively, but each has a story.”

An example, he said, is the painting featuring Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Match Girl,” an image from the fairy tale he recalls from his youth. But, he said, he realized the fairy tale, like many children’s stories, is about dying, or in this case, a dying child’s hopes and dreams. So, he said, he decided to explore the concept through a modern version of a vanitas (still life paintings executed during the 16th and 17th centuries that explored death and decay) as a metaphor for life.

Another painting, he said, relates to a specific event with his daughter, now a senior at Smith College, when she was 2 years old. A stay-at-home dad, Mr. Bricher said his daughter came with him daily to the studio, where she had her own desk at which she could “work.” One day, he looked over and saw her holding a Barbie doll in one hand, and a pencil and paper in the other, and she was trying to draw the doll to scale.

“Most children tend to draw a person bigger than everything else because they are most important to them, but she was drawing to the same scale as the Barbie doll,” he recalled. “I could see her thought process: ‘How do I take this Barbie, which I love so much, and draw it as I see it?’ She had seen me do it all the time. I was just fascinated by it because I knew it wouldn’t last. To me, that painting is about the creative moment.”

The “Wunderkammer” paintings also differ from Mr. Bricher’s technical repertoire.

“This new body of work is the first time I have combined traditional oil painting techniques with my recent experiments with paper lithography and encaustic wax,” he explained. “The works begin as oil paintings on wood and then undergo a process of layering and ‘aging.’ The paper lithography technique allows me to bring a linear element into my paintings. The color drawings that are printed over the paintings complement and oppose the themes and compositions of the paintings. Final layers of transparent and semi-transparent wax give the work texture, age and mystery.”

Anyone familiar with Mr. Bricher’s work knows that he is an artist of many talents. Born in Columbus, Ohio, art might not have been an obvious career choice for a young Mr. Bricher, but he said his mother, a teacher, always had an interest in the arts while his father, a barber, was creative and a chronic tinkerer. Mr. Bricher, however, was more interested in his garage band as a youth, and never took an art class until his junior year in high school.

Nevertheless, after high school he studied at the Parson School of Design and then at the Art Students League of New York with world-renowned portrait painter Nelson Shanks. Today, he is a portraitist, illustrator, animator, instructor, and 3-D modeler, among other things. As a traditional painter he has achieved tremendous success. As a commercial artist, his clients include PBS, Mad Magazine, Frito-Lay, Pepsi, Hasbro, Diageo, Pitney Bowes, Taunton Press and Crew Design, Inc. He has won many awards for his interactive media, online advertising and Web sites, and won the gold PROMAX/Broadcast Design Awards for 2008.

His association with Mad Magazine has lasted more than a decade and has allowed Mr. Bricher to express his sense of humor, as well as to practice his art. He is to have an exhibition of his Mad Magazine work coming up at Smith College.

“I was a Mad guy. I always read the magazine as a kid,” he said, “ … and I am proud to be part of that group of artists. Mad is a very demanding client … but I enjoy the work.”

As for his more traditional work—and even the more recent series—he said that his art work “… is built from images that bubble up from my subconscious and accumulate. An image starts to take shape at the edge of my imagination—I don’t question the meaning, often they are just shapes and areas that have yet to come into focus. I make note of these motifs in a sketchbook or journal. The images that are persistent in their reappearance become my art. Eventually themes and elements start to attach themselves to each other. Sometimes this accumulation results a single unified picture space. Other times I combine multiple pictures into a ‘multi-pane’ painting.”

As for the show at The Gunn Memorial Library, “This show reflects my life,” he said.

The Gunn Memorial Library is located at 5 Wykeham Road, at the juncture of Route 47 opposite the Green in Washington. For more information and for library hours, call 860-868-7586, or visit www.gunnlibrary.org. For more information about Scott Bricher, visit scottbricher.com.

Scott Bricher - painting, illustration & design     860-927-1667      26 Stone Fences Lane, South Kent CT, 06785