Kib Bramhall reinvents himself

Artist Kib Bramhall of West Tisbury. Photo by Ben Scott
Artist Kib Bramhall of West Tisbury, well known for his realistic paintings of Vineyard landscapes, explored a new style this year. Photos by Ben Scott

By Brooks Robards - August 17, 2006

Three years ago, landscape painter Kib Bramhall left the Vineyard gallery scene behind and plunged into abstraction. He says he decided to concentrate on using a heightened, intense palette of colors in his paintings to express feeling about the subject at hand. His new exhibit at the Carol Craven Gallery, which runs through August 25, demonstrates the results of his explorations.

The range of styles in the exhibit is remarkable. It begins on the left wall with realist still lifes: one of white lilies, "August," and one of paint brushes in a paint-pocked jar, "These Are a Few of My Favorite Things." The latter was completed in the winter of 2005 and ended this artist's investigation of abstraction.

"I got so much pleasure from again painting things as I saw them that I have continued in a realistic style until the present," Mr. Bramhall says in an artist's statement. From these two small still lifes, the exhibit moves into examples of his abstract work.

"Wedding Field," by Kib Bramhall. Photo by Ben Scott
"Wedding Field," one of several large and luminous landscapes hanging at the Carol Craven Gallery.

"Oxalis" depicts the wildflower of that name, also called a wood sorrel, as a wing-shaped Rorschach form in purple, centered in a deep plum background. The colors and shapes create a highly erotic effect. The other two abstract paintings, "Oracle/Yellow" and "Oracle/Purple," each rely on a single, rough line, or fissure, in the center to focus the viewer's eye within the rest of the painting's intense flood of color, which in the case of "Oracle/Yellow" drifts into orange in the middle.

From these purist investigations of color, the exhibit moves back into landscape painting, but with a difference. Both the large work, "Towards Aquinnah," and the smaller "Towards Aquinnah (Study)" use powerful, saturated shades to depict a strikingly simplified scene of orange fields, blue sky, lime green or pale yellow water and hunter green foliage.

A pair of plump, surrealistic grapefruit, in "In the Bahamas."

These two paintings look as if they have come directly out of Mr. Bramhall's experience with abstract painting. The slight suggestion of grass blades and the shadows textured with royal blue may have resulted from his attempts, as he says, "to commingle saturation and transparency in a celebration of pure color." The result is very different from conventional realist landscape, because the colors flatten the spatial dimensions. There is less of an attempt to create the illusion of three dimensions.

The series of landscapes next to these two, depicting similar views of the north shore, continues to investigate how blocks of color affect perception and space. Then the artist begins to return to a more traditional landscape style in "Wedding Field," with its lovely, mottled section of shadow, "Wedding Field (Study)" and "The Farm on Nashawena" with an interestingly variegated bar of water.

A vast sky covers cozy buildings in "The Farm at Nashawena."

In "Changing Weather," where storm clouds moving in on a Naushon lighthouse situated in brown/green fields dominate the canvas, the artist seems to have moved toward a new balance between realism and expressionism. The organic forms of the clouds in this painting, and even more so in "Afternoon Clouds," move well beyond the merely pretty, so hard to escape in representations of nature.

"January" and "Home," both large canvases, are sure crowd-pleasers with their compositional balance and mostly muted palettes - although the brightly lit windows in "Home" hark back to a more adventurous delving into abstraction. The exhibit culminates in a series of still lifes of fruit that take the viewer back to the show's beginnings in delightful new ways.

Peaches, clementines, and grapefruit have captured the painter's attention in this grouping, and he brings to his renderings of them a new appreciation of form and color. Bramhall says he loves eating pink grapefruit for breakfast and found himself painting his breakfast food last winter.

He tried cutting the fruit open so he could incorporate its pink interior in his painting, but that didn't work. Instead he has floated the spotted yellow grapefruits of a painting like "In the Pink" in luscious pink space.

"I just kept painting them bigger," he says. "I thought they needed more of a statement than to be life-sized."

Brooks Robards is a poet, author, and former college film instructor. She frequently contributes stories on art, film, and poetry to The Times.