Pie in the eye: Garrett puts the art in artichokes
When I interviewed Brandon Garrett in 2006, it was for an article about how the UVA law professor had enabled his students to gain first-hand experience in overturning the wrongful conviction of Earl Washington, Jr. Gathering background information, I discovered that after graduating from Yale, Garrett had worked with the homeless in New York City before earning a law degree to pursue civil rights and exonerating innocent prisoners.
What I didn’t discover, though, was that before any of that transpired, Garrett seriously pursued art. He studied painting after hours in high school and continued taking art classes at Yale. Even while running a New York “soup-kitchen legal clinic,” Garrett kept a tiny studio. This longtime commitment to practice shows in Garrett’s current Mudhouse exhibition, “Acrylic Pizza.”
Although the 15 paintings displayed offer a lighthearted and fun tour through the many Italian pies created in Garrett’s kitchen, the man clearly knows his way around a palette (not to mention a palate). The artist originally conceived of the series as an exercise in black, white, and red, but, thankfully, he busted out of the olive, red pepper, and mozzarella framework to include more colorful ingredients and paint tubes.
Most of the pieces offer a bird’s eye view of pizza, leading to a kaleidoscopic presentation of toppings enclosed by a circle of crust. The paintings abstraction level varies depending on how impressionistic Garrett gets with his ingredients–sometimes cherry tomatoes and asparagus spears are recognizable; other times the pie is simply a textured rush of exuberant brush strokes.
Several works beautifully marry realism with impressionism. In the small “Pizza on the Grill,” Garrett creates a gorgeous rack of parallel bars predominated by orange. On it sits an abstractly topped pie, jolted by an effective use of cobalt blue. If Monet had painted pizza instead of haystacks and water lilies, he might have come up with something similarly delicious.
As with any exhibition, some pieces are stronger than others. The three large mozzarella-dominated paintings toward the front of the caf© seem lumpen and soggy in comparison to “Pizza with Asparagus,” which dazzles with a radial swirl of red, green, and yellow slices set against a cerulean blue background.
Shining through every piece in “Acrylic Pizza” is the obvious pleasure Garrett takes in the process. Given the gravity of his day job, we’re lucky Garrett still gets his ya-yas out on the canvas.
Brandon Garrett’s exhibition, “Acrylic Pizza,” is on view through March 2 at Mudhouse. 213 W. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 242-9294.