Farrell Brickhouse Looking Back at Tomorrow at JJ Murphy Gallery

New Bather, 2023, 20″ x 16″, oil, glitter on canvas

Farrell Brickhouse’s exhibition at JJ Murphy Gallery in the Lower East Side marks a significant milestone in Brickhouse’s artistic journey. It is his first solo exhibition at the gallery and his first one-person show in over a decade. The works on display, all created between 2020 and 2024 at his new home and studio in Hudson, NY, provide an insight into the artist’s evolution in painting and picture-making over this period. 

I’ve been following Brickhouse’s work for over 20 years. In my years of observing his work, I’ve learned about his unique ability to tell a story through the process of making a painting. Farrell Brickhouse is a native of New York City, and as the saying goes, ‘there is a story at every corner.’ Brickhouse’s paintings narrate a story of an otherwise mundane subject or scenario into a poetic message. His handling of paint brings to mind the likes of Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Milton Resnick, Chaim Soutine, and more.  Like Elizabeth Murray and Katherine Bradford, Brickhouse’s paintings lift his imagery from everyday encounters and manage to find allegorical meaning within them. To this degree, Farrell Brickhouse is an intense viewer and a painter’s painter. What a passive observer in life may evaluate as part of their everyday day, Brickhouse sees with layered meaning and then tells it through his process of painting or wrestling with the medium. Only then does he give his subjects new birth, allowing them to live in a new light. 

Study To The River, 2021, 18″ x 14″, oil on canvas

In most works in the exhibition, figures are engaged in everyday events, such as Woman with A VaseStudy To The River, and Tip Toe Spring. Another element of the work is evocative of theological and other mystical narratives. In Tree Huggers, two figures stand beside a red-trunked tree, surrounded by a fleshy pink hue. One is reminded of the biblical story of Adam and Eve, symbolizing the harmony between humans and nature. In Big Fish, a figure holds/offers a fish, which may be understood as an offering of peace and salvation. The figures in the imagery appear unclothed, which helps strengthen the two-folded nature of the work, representing vulnerability and openness. Another compelling element of Brickhouse’s work is his use of color and glitter as light, strengthening the nuanced underpinning of his intentions. The colors employed are tonal; they sit in transitional hues. Using glitter to throw back light reminds us that these images reflect a life lived. 

Offering II, 2022, 16″ x 12”, oil on canvas

The paintings are small, ranging from 10″ x 8″ to 20″ x 16″—a deliberate decision of the artist. Brickhouse reminds us that a grand and historic topic can be disseminated in small doses like poetry does. In Offering II, 2022, an oil on canvas measuring 16″ x 12″, a figure is depicted holding a bulbous object; We cannot make out what it is. Upon close inspection of the painting’s color and surface, the figure has been rendered in rust red and raw umber, and pulsing through silver paint passages reflect the gallery’s overhead and ambient light. The silver paint reflects light as a jewel or a gem would. Like most of the works in the show, the figure/ground relationship collapses—the figure comes together and then dissipates. The image and surface in Brickhouse’s paintings are knotted together, resembling bad static reception on a television. The paintings also have a bulbous surface, which compliments the object offered. Perhaps Brickhouse is offering the canvas as much as the figure is making an offering.

Tree Huggers, 2017-2021, 14″ x 11”, oil, glitter on canvas

All photos courtesy of the gallery

Farrell Brickhouse Looking Back at Tomorrow, April 17 – May 18, 2024 at JJ Murphy Gallery, 53 Stanton Street, New York, NY 10002

About the writer: Artist and educator Riad Miah was born in Trinidad and lives and works in New York City. He has exhibited in the Tri-state area and abroad. He has contributed to Two Coats of Paint, the Brooklyn Rail, Vasari 21, and Art Savvy.