Reaching back to her earlier sensibilities and training, Trumansburg painter Domenica Brockman has reinvented herself in the past few years: moving from moody landscapist to an inventive constructor of chic but astringent geometric abstractions. Working primarily in encaustic (wax paint), with strategic use of acrylic and occasional metal leaf, she fills out modular configurations of plywood panels.
Her new style combines hard-edge geometry and seemingly casual compositions—reminiscent of Ellsworth Kelly and Matisse’s late “cut out” aesthetic—with a pleasingly warm painterly facture. Playing off areas of bare wood, she alternates between constrained color and fashion-inspired multi-chrome brightness, setting up ambiguously rhythmic sequences of positive and negative space.
Brockman is a former student of late Cornell art professor and abstractionist Eleanore Mikus. In her best-known work, Mikus combined austere all-white gridded structures with subtle painterliness and an inventive approach to materials. Brockman’s new work echoes her legacy while incorporating a lighter, more playful sensibility.
She is also the co-owner of Petrune, a vintage boutique on the Commons. An adaptable two-room space on the second floor of their historic building has served, in recent years, as an on-again-off-again exhibitions space—most memorably as the much missed eye Gallery,
under the inspired direction of Julie Simmons-Lynch. It’s a beautiful, airy space and one hopes to see more art shows there in years to come. Her “Recent Abstract Paintings,” at Petrune Gallery through Nov. 23, features the bulk of her major pieces from the past couple of years. Somewhat informal in nature and featuring previously exhibited works, it nevertheless serves as a welcome summary as well as offering hints of what may be to come.
Some of Brockman’s most assured pieces here use black, white, or a single color against the neutral wood backdrop. Using a kind of collage aesthetic, she plays off areas of brushy dynamism with more flatly painted areas. Slyly nodding towards the economic absurdity of local art, “Cha Ching” presents a fragmented dollar sign in dark blue, silhouetted against a white ground. In a similar vein, “Golden Tree of Life,” presents rich yellow arcs and blocks in a metaphorical evocation of plant-life. Eschewing directional brushwork in favor of a rough but static texture, “Imaginary Construction in Blue and White” has a more angular, architectural build, suggesting Cubist roots. Constructed (an irresistible term in describing Brockman’s current painting) on a three by three grid of square panels, the painting has a sharp, even violent intention.
Included in the current exhibition are paintings from her show last January at Ithaca’s CAP ArtSpace, inspired by a trip to Iceland. (It was reviewed by Amber Donofrio for these pages.) Notable amongst these are pieces incorporating rich purples alongside black and metallics as well as the image of a silhouetted volcano spurting gold “lava.”
Brockman’s use of representational imagery, while tying her work back to Matisse and even Kelly, is also characteristic of her insouciance. She appears willing to deflate the pretensions of abstract painting while maintaining its standards of invention.
Some of Brockman’s most satisfying pieces here play gold or silvery metallics against areas of black, white and/or wood. “Altar of the Moon” evokes the celestial and the bodily alike in repetitions and variations of silver, while “Altar of the Sun” repeats the composition using gold instead.
A group of “experimental” works serve notice of the artist’s willingness to court discrepancy and even failure. “Photo Booth,” featuring an acrylic painted paper collage overlaid on wood, features hot colors and loose shapes, seemingly less premeditated than usual. A group of smaller collages and collage-like works—mainly stacked on tables and on the floor rather than hung—suggest studio experiments rather than fully resolved pieces.
From the perspective of abstract art as a signature twentieth century phenomenon—now perhaps slightly faded, though still vital—Brockman’s art here gives the feeling of a satisfying synthesis: filled with familiar elements given promising new life. Unabashedly embracing traditions of design and decoration while maintaining a sophisticated painterly rigor, these pieces are accessible and outgoing while offering up layers of reserve and ambiguity. In an artistic community that sells itself on “uniqueness” while skipping out on historical and technical sophistication, this is an important accomplishment.