By Dave R. Davison
The Feast Arts Center Gallery is showing “Form Formless Form,” a one-man show by Seattle artist Jazz Brown. The show consists of a few dozen small paintings done with acrylic on canvas. There are three varieties of paintings. One set is on canvases that are small, maybe 7 x 5 inches, and are painted with simple words broken up into stacked letters. The rest of the paintings are on standard 8 x 8 inch canvases. One family of these has surfaces that are broken up into hard polygonal shapes with a wide band running between them. They appear to have been painted in a solid color, then taped and coated with a second color. When the tape is removed, an eye-catching pattern is revealed. The colors play against one another in a dazzling way. Each color combination creates its own mood.
The third set of paintings, however, are my favorite. In these, simple, geometric configurations are made with bands of color that are set parallel to one another. Here, each composition creates its own moody flavor by the choice of colors that are juxtaposed against each other. Each one is like a modern mandala. It can be meditated upon so that the viewer may receive from it an essence or a feeling.
Brown speaks of the vibrations of colors against one another and hints that what he is doing is composing a visual form of music. He says that he combines ideas from Minimalism with bebop jazz to make each painting a bit of “consciousness on canvas.”
Brown is capable of playing a wide range of tones with this visual music. There are brilliant, high-pitched compositions and there are brooding, moody works where one dark color is played against another dark color. Brown can also play a matte finish against a glossy shine.
Said to be a self-taught painter originally from Savanah, Georgia, Brown likes to use the written word to his advantage. He uses homonyms to construct phrases that have a depth of meaning. Thus, he calls his style of paintings “Knew Jazz,” implying both the novelty and the knowledgeableness of his work. In other places, he will describe trying to use paint to capture the “wholly moment,” something that is expressive of a mystical unity that is also sacred.
I find his ideas to be akin to those of the color field painters of the 1940s and 50s, who sought to use color and combinations of areas of color to depict emotional or spiritual states. The best example of these is Mark Rothko. There is also some kinship to the work of Frank Stella.
In addition to its being about individual works of art, this exhibit is very much an experience of the gallery space. Brown’s paintings, arranged in straight rows, seem to transform the narrow room into a chapel where art floats like a sacred object. This enshrinement of art and the subsequent bestowal of an aura of sacredness, makes for a quiet, contemplative experience. Often, in our age, many artists feel an urge towards iconoclasm, with its subversion of the authority of the art gallery. There is a suspicion of ways of showing art that make it seem like something precious. I find it refreshing to visit a gallery space that is not ashamed of itself as what it is: a place that seeks to show off its art as something with the power of its own presence.
“Form Formless Form” runs through Oct. 14 at Feast Fine Arts Center at 1402 S 11th St. in Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood. For further information visit feastarts.com.