August 3, 2010 through October 24, 2010 – Delaware Center for the Contemporary Arts
There is something quite magical about James Brantley’s land and cityscapes. The atmosphere is hypnotic, thick, something you know you are breathing. The DCCA has chosen to focus on Brantley’s depictions of buildings for this exhibition. These architectural spaces sometimes include people, but most often do not, or, even when they do, the people become a part of the larger compositional structure. The focus is not on them; they operate as abstract elements within the invented space of the painting. The term “invented” is vitally important here. Brantley may indeed begin with inspiration from nature or from an actual location, but the result is the creation of a world that operates under its own laws. Balance, proportion, value, and light maneuver in a way that is disconnected from our world while completely enveloped within Brantley’s vision. However, we are not forbidden, but rather drawn into his paintings, even vacuumed in. Many of the works are large and the space depicted large as well. The skies are vast romantic expanses of cloud and light.

Skies have meaning. They can be brooding, foreboding, exotic, chaotic, enlightening, excited, and even patriotic. The skies in this series of works are important. They take up an enormous expanse of the composition, and they provide mood and context for the presented scene. Brantley activates the surfaces with broadly painted brushstrokes, adding a dramatic element to many of the works. Some of the skies are a cerulean blue with white clouds while others contain more grey. Some have dark, dramatic storm clouds and hints of the sun’s golden tones while others are still. Below and in front of these skies the buildings rest in groups, strips, and clusters—reduced to basic geometric shapes with little or no ornament decorating their facades. Windows punctuate their flat exteriors. They are often dwarfed by the sky. It seems as if we are viewing a set for a city; this is the sense of unreality attached to the scenes. The buildings provide a façade for the life that takes place behind them, but in many of the paintings we don’t sense that life. There is little hint of it as the view is empty, devoid of all but the essential forms.

The stillness and lack of movement provide a fascinating contrast with the activated surfaces, so that at the same time that we are enveloped by the atmosphere, we are also slowed down by the calmness of the scene. It is the combination of distinctive environment and empty space that suggests a magical element to the works. Brantley’s paintings are poetic meditations upon the meaning of metropolitan. Cities are full of buildings that are full of people, yet Brantley’s urban centers are quiet, tranquil places where we see the evidence of a human presence in their protective shells—buildings— but where we rarely see human activity. It is the lyrical quietude that gives his works their special significance and which alludes to ideas about the relationship between human beings and their environment.

—J. Susan Isaacs, PhD
Curator of Special Projects

Center Hours