CULTURE- ART FEATURE- Scratching the surface: Robert Bricker's mythic visions


September's First Friday promised a cure for the August of my discontent. Galleries whose walls went bare for the past few weeks opened their new seasons. But the weather was sweaty. I felt queasy. And worse, what little I saw was so-so at best— with one major exception: Robert Bricker's "Deep in Shallow Thoughts" at the McGuffey Art Center.

In a word: wow! The breadth of Bricker's show mirrors the profusion of imagery running through his work. Fifty drawings, cast bronze reliefs, and ceramic pieces fill McGuffey's main gallery, talking across each other with myriad repeated motifs, both classical and mundane. Fleshy nudes, the Minotaur, Icarus, and Chinoiserie-inspired elements share un-conflicted space with stepstools, cinderblocks, rowboats, and roller skates.

"I thrust unrelated images up against each other not as philosophy, but as deliberately ambiguous poetry," Bricker explains. "Whatever the viewer thinks the art means is what it means."

That last bit is slightly disingenuous— Bricker's witty titles and self-referential imagery make clear he is constantly cracking private jokes and telling personal narratives that viewers may or may not get. No matter. His mastery of technique, particularly in re-creating his drawings in clay, with their Classical-Dada-Cubist-Expressionist fusion, is well worth seeing even when the imagery's meaning remains elusive.

For many of the ceramic works, Bricker has collaborated with artists Tom Clarkson and Alex Johnson, who create clay forms that serve as Bricker's canvases. Bricker sprays these blank vessels with colored slips, into which he scratches his drawings, creating dimensions through the interplay of line and colored surfaces. Although adept with clay himself– evidenced by the graceful "Hand Built Ceramic Torso" (the most straightforward piece on display)– Bricker says he enjoys the "call and response relationship" of working with other artists.

One of the most striking works in the current exhibition is "Memoirs of an Old Geezer," a large urn thrown by Clarkson and completely covered by Bricker with his visual musings (including what appears to be a self-portrait of the artist at work on the urn). Reminiscent of Greek pottery, this piece and several others stand on turntables that enable the viewer to literally spin through the interconnecting images in Bricker's mind-boggling compositions. 

Another standout piece is a large platter, "Sculpture Garden of Hephaestos," noteworthy for its clever use of perspective. As always, Bricker gives the viewer a sly wink. "If they smile, I win," he says. 

No contest, Bricker wins.