Robert Adams

Michael Brophy: The tree and the stump

Michael Brophy's newest set of forest paintings call into question "ugly" as a category

Michael Brophy’s new paintings at Laura Russo Gallery are immediately impressive. The big (six-and-a-half-by-eight foot range) paintings depict the forest, sometimes deep among giant trees, sometimes as the stump land of logging aftermath. For example, in The Orphans, 2015 a hiker is dwarfed by soaring tree trunks, rising well beyond the edge of the canvas. In The Machine in the Garden, 2016, we see a photographer off in the distance point a camera toward us through the truncated pillars of stumps.

Brophy shows us that both kinds of landscapes can be picturesque, if not in conventional ways. But in one kind of picture mankind is the insignificant visitor, and in the other humans have utilized their intellect to bring the forest down to their own size. With this visual confrontation of the primeval with modern decimation both painted with the same kind of objective care, one can be prodded to thinking about how we as city dwellers relate to a forest of trees that can become the stacks of lumber that make our homes.

Michael Brophy, "The Machine in the Garden", 2016, oil on canvas, 78 x 90 inches/Laura Russo Gallery

Michael Brophy, “The Machine in the Garden”, 2016, oil on canvas, 78 x 90 inches/Laura Russo Gallery

In an ART 21 video segment, the photographer Robert Adams talks about his response to seeing and photographing clear-cuts: “It’s not just a matter of exhaustion of resources—I do think there is involved an exhaustion of spirit.” Finding the spiritual connection in the land harkens back to 19th century American landscape attitudes—the unspoiled land of America was akin to the unspoiled Garden of Eden. In both cases, humans intervened.

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