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Drift: Driftwood 11 by Michael Brophy

  • Title: Drift: Driftwood 11
  • Artist: Michael Brophy
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Size: 38"h x 32"w
  • Creation date: 2014
  • Added to collection: 2016
  • Donor: Purchased by Portland Community College, Rock Creek Campus
  • Campus: Rock Creek
  • Location: B5/2 Common area

"Velasquez had these paintings of the court jesters, and they're painted with the dignity of the king, so I thought I'm going to take this cast-off thing in the forest, a stump or a snag, and I'm going to paint it like a person, with that kind of dignity. The funny thing is, a lot of times I feel like they're almost like figures – like I'm painting a portrait of a place." This is how artist Michael Brophy described his paintings of the clear cuts which gained him attention in the 1990's. That same concern – to paint the cast-off thing as an object of dignity – also applies to "Drift: Driftwood 11." The image is realistic and straightforward, but the longer one looks, the more it assumes a surreal quality. The logs are lovingly rendered in their various subtly bleached out tones in the stark, late afternoon sunlight, but the dark forest beyond them seems to hover in a twilight gloom where the sky implies the rapidly descending night. This could be the forest of fairy tales, where one passes in an instant from day to night and the bleached driftwood becomes the boneyard of the dragon's victims; or it is an essay on the intersection of land and sea and the evidence of logging and human activity. Yet all this lies right below the surface, and Brophy's masterful descriptive powers as a painter keep us in the concrete details of the objective world where life and death exist right next to one another. The painting was part of his 2014 exhibition "Drift" at Russo Lee Gallery. In a statement for that show Brophy wrote: "My work has always been about the place I live, and the interconnectedness of human, natural, and cultural histories. I am not a painter of the sublime, but rather I aim to contend with the landscape as a constructed place and to convey the often strange encounter of natural beauty and human intervention."