Bruno Andrade

Edith Baker Gallery

Bruno Andrade recently abandoned his abstract painted-wood wall reliefs in favor of lush,colorful landscapes and still lifes, and the new work reveals the enthusiasm of a recent convert. Swollen organic tree-forms vibrate with life against broad flat areas of color or spits of land teeming with growth. Surrounded by blue expanses that fuse sky and ocean, larvalike forms clinging to the trees simultaneously suggest clouds and islands. Andrade’s decorative, sinuous lines maintain a certain flatness within the landscapes. His still lifes, however, play more with concepts of traditional perspective. Though portions of these canvases are so thinly painted that the artist’s pencil drawing shows through, the final layer of paint is almost always a thickly applied impasto that gives his flowers the solidity of cake decorations. Andrade liberally brushes on his skies and lets them sit on the surface of the picture. Exposed portions of underpainting are frequently used to suggest elements within still lifes.

Fantasy and a confident decorative sense animate scenes inspired by the less-than-spectacular Gulf Coast around Andrade’s studio in Corpus Christi, Texas. Words like “calm,” “tranquil,” and “perfect” appear in his titles, and yet his surfaces, built of layers of cool colors over warm ones, are usually agitated. In Tranquil Land (all works 1990), a spindly growth of flowers surrounded by an intense yellow aura and garlanded with an additional fringe of blooms serves as the central motif. Conversely, Andrade’s one small, relatively realistic landscape, containing a road, a few trees, and some park land, is called Passionate Spirit. There is nothing coy about such apparently contradictory titles. Andrade’s paintings refer to spiritual experiences, in which such emotional qualities as tranquility and passion can be embodied in images to which they may appear superficially opposed.

Initially, I felt compelled to defend the easy manner and unapologetic gorgeousness of Andrade’s work, as though it were somehow a contradiction in terms that such wholly pleasurable paintings merited prolonged consideration. In an effort to keep painting serious, we prefer to envision the day-to-day engagement of the painter as all struggle, forgetting that even at its most ferocious it is also a form of play. With playfulness comes a sense of freedom that opens up an area where choices may be made based on pleasure rather than on need, and where actions speak of potential rather than constraint.

Andrade’s breezy, giddy compositions, characterized by a spontaneity that belies their careful and complex construction, acknowledge their debts to Henri Matisse, Milton Avery, and even Gustav Klimt, while they nonchalantly test the limits of good taste. It is through this sense of play that Andrade brings himself into contact with the abundant life outside his studio, the life that he celebrates in these unabashedly beautiful paintings.

Charles Dee Mitchell