Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Gandy Brodie; Ten Tenements

Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, June 2012

As a former student at “The Gandy Brodie School of Fine Art” situated in his barn in Newfane VT in 1972, I was of course very pleased to see this small but comprehensive exhibit, and some overdue recognition of Brodie’s iconoclastic career. Lets hope more of the estate gets out into the light of day soon.
This essay is more a remembrance than a review. Please refer to John Yau’s excellent 2-part review in HyperAllergic for a more concise review of the SHFAP exhibit. 
Indeed, my formative experience as a youthful longhaired “wheat germ freak” of an artist occurred on a warm summer day in Newfane Vermont when Gandy invited me into his barn and asked me what I thought one of his paintings looked like.
Responding “it looks like painting” (duh), I established a niche for myself in the barn, and with a certain wickedly subversive delight Gandy took me under his painterly wing that summer.
Gandy grew up a poor Jew on the Lower East Side and was pretty much self-taught. I believe Gandy prided himself on not being a part of any particular art clique, and made a concerted effort to identify himself as a rogue practitioner of paint. Despite his resistance to networking he managed to gain some notoriety as a product of the Provincetown MA and E 10th St gallery scenes in New York in the 50’s. He knew all the Cedar Bar Ab Ex luminaries of the time, and by the 60’s had met with enough success to move to Vermont and paint in a barn.
An excerpt from the essay I wrote on my web site:
“The barn was his studio but he also ran a “school” there. Inclusion for a few of us local post college art kids meant a chance to try out our brushwork around a painterly guru. Although Gandy was a no-nonsense critic and would let you know in no uncertain terms if he thought you were painting something crass, he was also a flower child at heart. His preferred lesson plan for painting from nature was to get outside with only charcoal and paper, feel your flavor, and assimilate random marks.”
I was then given marching orders by my mentor to leave the cushy confines of Brattleboro and move to a “cold water loft” in NYC if I wanted to be a real artist.
Brodie had a small cult following of former students in NY where he had also taken a spacious loft on Greene St. I recall watching one of his large “Astronaut” paintings take shape on Greene St before the Smithsonian acquired it. This heavily armored and painted figure still managed to drift weightlessly in the orgone void. (Brodie was a disciple of Wilhelm Reich and encouraged all his students to get naked and sit in the orgone box. I participated in Orgone therapy with Dr Sobey, a Reichian trained therapist on E 9th St, but it was never deemed necessary for me to enter the dank looking contraption about the size of a phone booth)
Gandy was prone to painting over his canvases for a period of years. I recall watching a self-portrait evolve over a period of years into a painting of an icicle. It was so encrusted with impasto that it must have been several inches thick.
Gandy’s sublime gift was an otherworldly ability to imbue his art with a truly transcendent sensation of tangible psyche. You could look at a simple painting of a small sailboat floating in a sea of monochromatic pigment that was like being inside of his brain as it dreamed of painting the sailboat.
His uncanny ability to make paintings as an extension of self was a primarily a sensually physical act that ended up as a pictorial version of his body reinvented as scenes from nature.
In particular his “Birth of a Fawn” series epitomized this process of transference; to quote John Yau: “At the heart of Brodie’s’s worldview is a profound understanding of neglect and solitariness”.
There were also the “Dead Bird” and “Falling Tree” themes, all worthy of his best work.
I think the sense of fragile decay and the inevitability of entropy in his painting stemmed from a dichotomy of sensation rooted in his pictorial narrative. He always warned his students to be wary of sentimental content, and to avoid sentimentality by embracing an authentic motif of native experience. Simplicity vs simplistic.
Gandy was actually somewhat intolerant of most contemporary art. He was not particularly interested in intellectual investigation. He found abstract art generally lacking the impetus of pictorial substance found in Cezanne, Corbet, and other artists that worked representionally from nature.
Near the end of life Gandy seemed depressed, I remember hanging out with him in SoHo one afternoon, his eyes were wells of painfully agonizingly awareness. He knew he was sick, and had always suffered from a psyche wracked by insecurity and uncertainty. I guess you could say he wore his heart on his sleeve, you knew when he was enjoying life and when it was tormenting him.
But that’s why he was such a great mentor and teacher. His lessons and art were interchangeable, and the wealth of artistic mores and completely non-cynical career orientation his students gained were invaluable. Nobody who knew Gandy ever left feeling like he didn’t give the most of himself; and you were always the better for it.
Brodie collapsed and died on the sidewalk from heart failure after visiting his art dealer in 1975.


 (Sorry I don't have captions for all of these. Please contact SHFAP as most were in his show)

City Tree

Anemonie in Rusted Can
Mixed media on paper


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