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Artist of the Month - February 2006

An Original Brandt
By Annabelle Numaguchi

William Brandt Multicolored

Most people’s perception of the quintessential artist results from the histories of legendary painters whose eccentricities walked the thin line between genius and madness. My own experience in meeting artists has led me to conclude that most artists lead fairly mainstream lives and perceive the world fairly similarly to those of us who neither paint, sculpt, write nor compose. The difference between us and them is boiled down to having the tools to record and explore the reality most of us agree on.

But every once in a rare while, we meet an artist who fits so neatly into this preconceived idea that we continue to buy into it. It’s not enough for the artist to be eccentric, addicted or sensitive; he must also be exquisitely talented.

William Brandt is just such an artist.

He is primarily a painter of abstract landscapes, whose works speak eloquently and elegantly. His persona is, in contrast, that of a disheveled recovering alcoholic whose stream of thought flows uphill at times and through many valleys at once. Following his conversation requires mental agility in jumping from idea to idea, until he settles on talking about his art.

Brandt’s eyes come alive and bright when he discusses his paintings, much like a proud mother’s watching her child behave. And his work deserves such admiration, both from the painter and the critic, because within it he captures the best of his intuition, his innate eye for composition and his inner vibrancy.

Besides a high school art class and one semester at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, Brandt is mostly self-taught. He comes by his keen sense of composition, color and style naturally and has honed these talents over a brief yet intense period of work.

Having lost fifteen years to alcoholism, he sobered up six years ago. For awhile, he only had enough emotional energy to attend meetings and recover from his addiction. Then, three years ago he returned to a passion he had discovered early on in life, but had shelved.

Brandt’s interest in drawing began in middle school when he replicated a Rembrandt etching (“Christ in the Temple”) in pencil. He captured the detailed sketch with complete accuracy, down to every stroke. His style has evolved greatly over the years, from detailed pencil drawings to the abstract oils he currently creates.
Reminiscent of Cezanne’s cubist landscapes, Brandt’s pieces are abstract while still retaining a resemblance to the original photos from which he paints.

Also like the Impressionist who was reputed to have re-painted the same subject eighty times, Brandt likes to repeat the same landscape in order to “get a feel for it, understand it better,” in his words.

Inspired by a black-and-white thumbnail photo, he painted what he considers his best painting ever, “Mount of Olives.” He has depicted this landscape ten times before he “got it accurate.”

This ability to focus bordering on the obsessive is part of what makes Brandt such an intriguing personality. Painting and recovery are intertwined in his mind. He explains that “the painting is teaching me to work and how to pace myself.” In contrast to how he painted one of his earlier works, “Orange Jubilee,” on which he spent an entire week with few breaks and felt wiped out at the end, he now realizes that he “needs rest to produce good paintings.”

Although he approaches his work with the same focus, he allows time to help him decipher what each painting needs. He painted “Canyon de Chelle,” a depiction composed primarily of orange hues, in June, but didn’t finish it until January. He added a few bold strokes of green, which as he says, “finished the picture.”

Just like his innate sense of how to use empty space within his landscapes, he now understands how to allow restful time balance out his intense efforts in creating. Consequently, he currently has fifteen paintings in progress, which parallels the flow of his conversation which can have several dialogues going on simultaneously.

In contrast to his conversation which roams and is liberally sprinkled with allusions to the Bible or esoteric references, his paintings are made up of quick decisive strokes. He creates angular lines that evoke a cubist look. The hand holding the brush seems to move with purpose, and the dried paint captures this dynamism and imbues the painting with a sense of movement.

The viewer’s eye is enticed around the painting by the composition of color and brush strokes. In traveling around the piece, the eye finds recognizable shapes, such as the five-pointed star in the upper left-hand corner of “Orange Jubilee,” or the nose that looks like a sailboat in “Portrait of a Navajo Boy.” Studying Brandt’s work reminds me of staring at clouds; from the abstract evolves pictures and stories.

Another feature that emerges from his work is the luminosity of the canvas. He achieves this glow within his paintings primarily through his choice of materials. He selects oil-primed linen canvases to paint on. Brandt also uses walnut oil paints, which he describes as “vibrant and loaded.”

William Brandt orange

He uses a fairly limited palette consisting mostly of cadmium red and orange, gold, copper, blue and green. Interestingly, he never uses yellow or burnt umber, two colors that naturally appear so abundantly in the landscapes he often depicts. This irony seems to reflect how Brandt is not tied down by notions of reality, and this ability to step outside these bounds is what liberates him into creating moving abstracts that appeal to the eye and to the mind.

Understandably, Brandt’s work is enjoying a measure of success in Moab, where he has paintings displayed in City Hall and at Petra Gallery (on Center Street). He is also participating in an upcoming exhibit featuring abstracts by six Moab artists (see box below).

Brandt doesn’t seek out the spotlight, but would rather see his work speak for itself. What he would like people to say about him is, “He liked the paintings, that’s what it’s all about.” Although he is right that the paintings should and can stand alone, this enigmatic personality creating them adds to their allure. But the main reason I find Brandt, the man, so intriguing is because, Brandt, the paintings, are so evocative and demand to be taken seriously.

If I’d met Brandt under another guise, would I have taken him as seriously as I do his work? I don’t know, but it seems clear that he is not complete without the paintings. So, how can I contemplate his work with shedding some light upon him? After all, like his paintings, he is an original Brandt.

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