David Dew Bruner is no more a thief than the next artist—it’s only that he is candid enough to tell us outright who he has stolen from. In “Equipoise: Stasis and The Power of Suggestion in Still Life,” a group show on view at Carrie Haddad Gallery through October 1, Bruner presents a series of drawings, each titled “Morandi Bottle.” More accurately, it is not so much Morandi’s bottles that Bruner has lifted (he’s the first to admit that the works “don’t look anything like Morandi paintings”) but rather the essence of Morandi’s mark-making. “Sometimes, I just love the way other people make marks,” Bruner enthuses. “My endeavor is [to riff off] the gesture of the form, the gesture in the detail, the quality of the line. It may be a subject matter that’s dull as dishwater to me, but the way it’s painted… I’m jealous.”
Bruner grew up in Louisiana, one of three sons to a social worker and an agricultural mortgage banker. He wouldn’t discover himself as an artist until his stint at Louisiana State University, where, as a student of landscape architecture, he was required to take an art class. As he tested the limits of his precocious talent for drawing, Bruner was torn between prospective careers as a fine artist and a landscape architect. Eventually, he would find he could have his cake and eat it, too. Bruner has practiced landscape architecture professionally since 1984 and has been exhibited extensively, including a prodigious display of his collages on view at Saratoga Arts.
In the wake of his mother’s death in 2012, Bruner began to draw again after a 15-year hiatus from the art world. Inspired by visits to Louisiana throughout his mother’s illness, Bruner revived his practice by repeatedly sketching the southern live oak tree, which is endemic to the American South. “My mother and I held an affinity for live oaks, and for some reason, I started drawing them like mad,” Bruner recalls. His partner, the gallerist Jonathan Hallam, encouraged Bruner to exhibit the drawings at Hallam’s eponymous art space. “And we did. And that was the restart of my career,” Bruner says.
Not long after that show, which sold out, Bruner propagated a detail from a drawing by Graham Sutherland. This sent him “down the trail of reinterpreting, digesting, [and] reassembling his and others’ works.” Bruner has borrowed from a diverse troupe of artists, from Picasso—art history’s reigning kleptomaniac—to A.J. Drysdale, the prolific painter known for his Louisiana landscapes. “The original source of inspiration often gets completely lost in the new work, but the concept remains intact,” Bruner explains.
As with his previous derivations, Bruner’s series of Morandi bottles comprises several distinct typologies which, generally speaking, correlate with their date of completion. “Morandi Bottle 1,” “Bottle 2,” and “Bottle 5” are close siblings; each is set against an unrelenting blackness that pushes forward the belly of the bottle, activating its myriad perspectives by way of a vigorous contrast. In subsequent drawings, like “Bottle 7” and “Bottle 8,” Bruner involves color; subtle swaths of blue, green, and purple hover on and around the bottles like auras, alternatively supporting and subjugating the lines of force he establishes in graphite. Even later on, with “Bottle 15,” Bruner omits color and reduces contrast, effectively reiterating his primary concern: the naked and unfettered gesture.
It is difficult not to transpose each form into a figure and, with it, shape into posture. Then, the bottles’ graphic organs suggest personalities or activities. “Morandi Bottle 1” is so voluptuous as to emulate pregnancy; “Bottle 5” is regal as a royal portrait; “Bottle 6” is stoned and slumped on the sofa; and “Bottle 8” is clairvoyant, oozing a psychic musk you might smell if you get too close. Remarkably, this cast of characters was born of one mark many times mutated. In terms appropriate for a landscape architect, Bruner likens his artworks to “witch’s brooms” (that’s horticultural slang for a structurally deformed plant) that sprout from a single “seed.” “I take the DNA from something, then morph it,” Bruner says. “And I discover, by accident, something I’m in love with.”
You can see David Dew Bruner’s work at Carrie Haddad Gallery in the group show “Equipoise” through October 1st.