Danny Brisbane – Fast Lane
Brick Brothers, Dunedin
May 22 – June 5, 2015.
Fast Lane, Danny Brisbane’s show of recent work at Brick Brothers in Dunedin has the artist bringing out his regular rogue’s gallery of romanticised outsiders accessorised with an assortment of iconic signifiers circling around the notion of outlaw as doomed hero. The rough edged approach that Brisbane brings to his medium lends an air of urgency to these paintings although leaving the works somewhat technically unresolved. This rushed and unfinished quality in a way serves to underscore a hurried desperation for living that is thematically central to the romantic outlaw archetype. Unfortunately it feels that this rough hewn aspect is not entirely intentional. Examples of Brisbane’s drawing were displayed in a second room off the gallery space, including preparatory work for this show. These pieces indicate a certain refinement of graphic technique with the pencil which doesn’t quite translate to paint. Additionally, the drawing, for all its attempts at visual fidelity highlights the inherent problem of drawing from photographs rather than from life. There is a replication of the surface aspects of the image without an understanding of the underlying form and structure of the subject. Though there still remains a dissonance in polish between the drawn and painted work that points to a level of finish that Brisbane is aiming for but falls somewhat short of.
Regardless of the technical difficulties, each canvas remains patchwork case study of the picaresque. Cultural anti-heroes Jerry Garcia, Sonny Barger, Babe Ruth, and Lemmy Kilmister vie for screen-time with packets of cigarettes, alcohol in various forms, rattlesnakes, skulls dressed in an assortment of hats, cartoon characters, daggers, and so on all strewn across uneven fields of lurid colour. Mixed in here is a particular reverence for the American west with cowboys and Indians weaving their way through these works as a recurring motif.
The non-local and predominantly Americanised imagery that is Brisbane’s lingua franca is not necessarily as problematic as it may seem to be on first blush. Given the undeniable globally networked environment we now inhabit all culture and cultures are up for grabs and indeed, appropriation. We are all destabilised, rootless, and hyperreal where cowboys and Indians may provide a more immediately relevant cultural narrative to a New Zealander than, say, the land wars, although one may hope not. This particular fetishisation of US culture strikes as similar to that of the French New Wave in cinema, Goddard’s Breathless as a foremost example, though with much less of an ironic distance and with channel-surfing in place of the jump-cut. It is a false nostalgia generated through culturally skewed prosthetic memory; symbolist painting for a collective psyche externalised to the point where the unconscious has no interiority. Archetypes are made manifest and then denuded of the resonance.
Of course it is evident that this just the stuff that Brisbane is enjoys and into this collection of signifiers he injects an immediacy of personal narrative in scrawled diaristic remarks. These fractured notes read as part declarative confessional part self-conscious response to the subcultural narrative full of casual drug references and pithy philosophies.There is a definite scrapbook quality to these works. Images seem to be arbitrarily juxtaposed declaring an chaotic aesthetic in the specific arrangement of elements. It is the self as an aggregate of cultural references. Of course, this multiplication of image, copying the copy, is exactly the hyperreality that Brisbane’s audience are buying into.
This show is presented under the auspices of Bill Munro’s ‘Freestyle Management’, last seen shifting units for Dunedin’s enfant terrible/wunderkind of post-Basquiat Street Expressionism , Philip James Frost. Whenever an artist is attached to any kind of a hype-machine such this, even on a localised scale, one has a tendency to question, not the integrity and intentions of the artist as much as the depth of critical engagement of the audience. What is it about these images that appeals to their buyers? It is a question I am almost too afraid to ask in fear of receiving the answer, “Because it’s cool.” ‘Cool’, whatever it may mean is no longer a viable culture value. In our post-networked, subculture is just another facet of a multifarious monoculture. Perhaps Brisbane is aware of this, but that would just make things worse rendering the work as no more than cynical marketing ploy, but I believe that onus sits more heavily on the shoulders of Mr. Munro.
This work offers no answers, nor does it even pose any particularly engaging questions. The hope however remains that as still a very young painter Danny Brisbane may yet develop his omnivorous low-brow aesthetic onto more articulate associative narratives and bring to his brush work the same, at least surface polish of his pencils. As long as he doesn’t let this early success breed complacency it may be worth keeping an eye on how Brisbane’s dedication to his practice may yet kindle the spark of his intent into a more resolved and definite aesthetic statement.