Brett De Palma
Artist Statement
BRETT De PALMA

ARTIST'S STATEMENT


My artworks are the residue of my experience; they are witnesses created to reflect their time and place. They are consciously and unconsciously crafted to mirror the ever-evolving information of my personal perceptions and are tangible reminders of a remembered life for those who come after.


"We rest: a dream has power to poison sleep.
We reuse: one wandering thought pollutes the day.
We feel, conceive, or reason; laugh or weep,
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away;
It is the same; for, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure is free.
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his 'morrow;
Naught may endure, but mutability.
~ Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Repulsion-Attraction Bio

REPULSION-ATTRACTION
ASSIMILATION-REBELLION

I was born in 1949 as a first- generation Italian-American first son of a southern immigrant father whose family settled in Boston and a Scotch-Irish southern mother in Lexington, Ky. They met during WWII in Nashville on an Army Air Force base near Franklin Pike which is now the former site of a shopping mall. At age 4, moved to Cambridge, Mass., Milford Del., my mother's homestead in Ashland City, Tenn., Green Hills Nashville, and finally to Civil War era Longview mansion on Franklin Pike to start the 4th grade. These moves set the stage to straddle the Mason-Dixon Line.

Feeling the need to adapt and fit-in, I achieved the rank of Life Scout and in 1966 took on an identity as Capt. of football team. Became a rebel by listening to rock and roll and blues: HossMan on WLAC, Noble Blackwell on Night Train, Beatles, Stones, Dylan, Hendrix, and painted family's bathroom black and psychedelic while listening to WLS from Chicago. In 1967, threatened by Vietnam, attended Peabody College transferring from Phys Ed to Art Dept: Lenny Bruce, Fugs, Zappa, Beefheart, and became a founding member of local anti-music group Big Crotch and the Armpits (sic). I began painting earnestly in 1969 while studying with Arthur Orr.

I married in 1970 and left for grad school in Boston where I became an urban loft pioneer living in the projects. I met Johnathan Richman and the Modern Lovers in 1971 on Cambridge Commons and Harvard mixers. Introduced to the work of Chicago's Hairy Who, I painted large-scale portraits of music heros Screaming Jay Hawkins, Lester Young, Hank Williams Jr., etc.

Upon returning to Nashville in 1973, I drove a delivery truck for a plastics factory, sold office and art supplies on lower Broadway, and began teaching painting and art history at UT Nashville and rejoined the Armpits. I played free-form bass clarinet and horns with serious studio musicians at venues such as Exit Inn, Red Dog Saloon, The Villager, Vanderbilt's Graduate Pub, Jordonia Reform School, Central State Mental Hospital, an empty church on Lafayette where friends lived and Cheekwood. I showed my paintings at Sarrat Student Center and Martin-Wiley Gallery where I met Red Grooms. On a trip to NYC in 1976, I saw a group called the Ramones at Max's Kansas City and decided I had to move in 1978.

Our first apartment was off of Bleeker St. in Greeenwich Village. The rent was $200 which was expensive in the middle of a recession. I washed dishes for almost a year on 7th Ave. until Red Grooms offered me a job painting his sculpture and I found a place as gallery assistant at Sperone Westwater Fischer where I met former Peabody graduate Robert Ryman (auditorium). I became a punk new-waver while going to CBGB after hours all the while painting abstract anatomy on rolls of bookbinding material I found in the basement of my building. I met no-wave impresario and artist-turned-curator Diego Cortez at The Mudd Club who included me in New York- New Wave show of 1981 along with artists Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat.

While working at Sperone Gallery in Soho I met artists such as Bruce Nauman, Carl Andre, Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, and Enzo Cucchi. The three C's where interested in my work and told Italian dealer Emilio Mazzoli who invited me to show in Modena, Italy the month following Basquiat. At the same time, I had given my slides to a German sculptor which resulted in my being invited to participate in Documenta 7 in 1982. I quit my day job.

Upon returning to New York, Keith Haring asked me to join the newly forming Tony Shafrazi Gallery where I stayed until 1989. The market crash of 1987 along with changing style wars forced me to look for other opportunities: Anders Tornberg in Sweden payed upfront; Mario Diacono in Boston bought directly. Joe Fawbush came to my studio in Times Square and asked me to join his new gallery with Kiki Smith et al where I showed twice until money ran out but not before we bought an 1870's company store in the Catskill Mts. of upstate New York. In 1989 I took a teaching job at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where I remain after 28 years.

During a two year stint in 1991-92 teaching advanced painting to astrophysics students at Princeton, I had shows in Portugal and New York with no sales. A student in my drawing class, Chris Martin, offered me his day job working in an AIDS Day Treatment Clinic making art where they made me a Dept. Head middle-manager. I went underground in the art world only surfacing for group shows including my last show in Nashville with fellow Peabody College grad Mel Chin in 1996.

I have only recently emerged from the Cave of Fire, Water, Ice, Smoke and Mirrors through the Academy of Education to the Institutionalized Greed of Leveraged Mergers and the Golden Age of Class Consolidation and Private Property into the Light of Hometown Celebrity Sunshine! Yet I emerge with Truth, Beauty, and Understanding somewhat intact.

Brett De Palma New York 2010

Wild Style of Brett De Palma
Nashville Scene



February 17, 2011
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT » ART
The wild style of Brett De Palma 
Prodigal Punk
by LAURA HUTSON


• BRETT DE PALMA
• Fashion Victims: Haute Couture Coiffure
 
 
 
Brett De Palma: Return of the Native
Through March 12 at Tinney Contemporary

It's not easy to separate a person from their roots. As the title indicates, Return of the Native celebrates Brett De Palma as Nashville's prodigal son, back after a long sojourn in New York City with something new to share. But to fully appreciate the sea change that has occurred in De Palma and his work, it's important to recognize the magnitude of the New York art world during the 1980s.

In a decade known for its excess, New York's gallery scene thrived. Between 1981 and 1987, more than a hundred art galleries opened and closed their doors in downtown New York City. In 1981, curator Diego Cortez organized an epochal exhibition titled New York/New Wave at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center in Long Island City, a showcase of over 1,000 works from over 150 artists. New York/New Wave played a large part in defining an art movement that galvanized the punk energy that had been brewing in Lower Manhattan since CBGB opened its doors there in the mid-1970s. The fact that De Palma exhibited at Cortez's show — alongside Keith Haring, Robert Mapplethorpe, Jean-Michel Basquiat and David Byrne — placed him at the center of a watershed movement that swept the visual arts into punk rock, and vice versa.

Thirty years later, De Palma's studio practice retains the punk disjointedness that flowed through that scene like free wine and cheap beer. Punk was aggressive, and had a DIY aesthetic that opened up limitless possibilities to artists. De Palma explains, "My art is intentionally funky in order to represent improvisation and the stretch towards unformulated solutions. It is the embracing of the impure and even failure itself." But there's something else at work here, something new and light. De Palma's paintings have taken a turn for the happy.

When you take the hard-edged rebellion of the punk movement out of the New York '80s and transplant it into Nashville's easygoing Southern air, you get something less frantic and more grounded. The current paintings have little of the bleakness that surrounded De Palma's early work, and he's given them Southern-centric titles like "Ring of Fire," "Kissing Elvis," "Tar Baby" and "Creationism." You can almost feel Nashville oozing out of the canvases like drips of paint. Now he makes paintings like a punk-rock Walt Disney, incorporating elements of the fantastic and the everyday with over-the-top style and cheery depth.

"Parrot Opera" is a cubist-surrealist mélange of color that takes place on a stage, complete with thick red curtain flanked by tiny cherubs and skulls. The windows in the stage set look out onto a fantastic world of floating castles over a sea, a view that is both pastoral and psychedelic. The painting is dramatic, energetic and mysterious, capturing all the grandeur of an operatic aria, but with a cartoonish parrot in the lead role.

De Palma's paintings are more interpretive than introspective, combining symbols and styles to create not just paintings but entire worlds, layered with color and staged for maximum atmospheric effect. The largest and most impressive painting in the series, "Fashion Victims: Haute Couture Coiffure," is an example of this painterly cut-up technique. In it, four women look coyly away while showing off absurdly elaborate hairdos — the blonde has an entire ship on the top of her Louis XIV-style head. In the foreground, a study of female arms is so graceful it becomes grotesque, curving into a web of sinewy lines. The painting's sweeping scale matches the melodrama of its fashion-victim inhabitants, telling a story about the ugliness of feminine beauty with playfulness and joy.

"Blue-Faced Preacher" takes its title from a painted face that is actually a wash of color, smeared onto the canvas in thick globs. It is rare to see this kind of painterly texture in contemporary art, and De Palma seems to apply it with a self-aware defiance that speaks to his punk-rock roots. The background is stripes of dripping paint, the preacher's suit built of smudges of color. De Palma reveals his love of applying paint to canvas, and of the magic of taking pigment from a tube to create something new.

In his artist statement, De Palma explains that his paintings are contradictory because life is often contradictory. "I am allowing the conflicting hard edges and soft forms, sensuality and roughness, humorous and dark to coexist; to stand-in for real life in all its quirkiness." His canvases are filled with images that create an atmosphere of fragmented storytelling that is not quite a narrative, but rather a combination of elements that unfolds like a song. That song is similarly contradictory – punk-rock country-and-Western.
Email arts@nashvillescene.com.
My New York Story
"MY NEW YORK STORY"
- BRETT DePALMA -
Our first apartment was off of Bleeker St. in Greeenwich Village.
The rent was $200 which was expensive in the middle of a recession.
I washed dishes for almost a year on 7th Ave. until Red Grooms
offered me a job painting his sculpture and I found a place as gallery
assistant at Sperone Westwater Fischer where I met former Peabody
graduate Robert Ryman (Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, TN). I
became a punk new-waver while going to CBGB after hours, all the
while painting abstract anatomy on rolls of bookbinding material that
I found in the basement of my building. I met no-wave impresario
and artist-turned-curator Diego Cortez at The Mudd Club who
included me in New York- New Wave show of 1981, along with artists
Keith Haring and Jean Michel Basquiat.

While working at Sperone Gallery in Soho, I met artists such as
Bruce Nauman, Carl Andre, Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, and
Enzo Cucchi. "The three Cs" were interested in my work and
recommended me to Italian dealer Emilio Mazzoli, who invited me to
show in Modena, Italy the month following Basquiat. At the same
time, I had given my slides to a German sculptor which resulted in my
being invited to participate in Documenta 7 in 1982. I quit my day
job.

Upon returning to New York, Keith Haring asked me to join the
newly forming Tony Shafrazi Gallery where I stayed until 1989. The
market crash of 1987 along with changing style wars forced me to
look for other opportunities: Anders Tornberg in Sweden payed
upfront; Mario Diacono in Boston bought directly. Joe Fawbush came
to my studio in Times Square and asked me to join his new gallery
with Kiki Smith et al, where I showed twice until money ran out, but
not before we bought an 1870's company store in the Catskill
Mountains of upstate New York. In 1989 I took a teaching job at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan where I remain after 28 years.

During a two year stint in 1991-92, teaching advanced painting to
astrophysics students at Princeton, I had shows in Portugal and New
York with no sales. A student in my drawing class, Chris Martin,
offered me his day job working in an AIDS Day Treatment Clinic
making art where they made me a Department Head middlemanager.
I went underground in the art world only surfacing for
group shows including my last show in Nashville with fellow Peabody
College grad Mel Chin in 1996.

I have only recently emerged from the Cave of Fire, Water, Ice,
Smoke and Mirrors through the Academy of Education to the
Institutionalized Greed of Leveraged Mergers and the Golden Age of
Class Consolidation and Private Property into the Light of
Hometown Celebrity Sunshine! Yet I emerge with Truth, Beauty, and
Understanding somewhat intact.

Brett De Palma, Nyack, New York 2015