Artist and writer Darryl Halbrooks explores the mystery of concealed forms, the diligence of repetition, and the nature of self-discipline in “Natura Morta,” on view at The Art League gallery, December 7, 2017–January 7, 2018. Natura Morta, a reference to the Italian translation of “still life,” is an homage to Italian painter Giorgio Morandi (1890-1964) an artist known for his repetitive compositions of humble objects painted in dreary, subdued hues. The distinctions between Halbrooks’s and Morandi’s work are immediate: viewers will discover large, colorful paintings that suggest – rather than depict – enigmatic objects obscured under draped fabrics.
Halbrooks’s personal take on still life is a vivid departure from Morandi’s signature restrained palette. “Most of my paintings [in this series] are way more colorful – I suppose that reveals my weakness compared to Morandi’s self discipline,” Halbrooks remarked, noting that it is often difficult, as a painter, to control one’s impulse to overindulge in the spectrum of available colors.
In another, more obvious contrast with Morandi, Halbrooks veils his still life compositions underneath a variety of colorful textiles. After arranging a collection of small vessels – jars, canisters, trinket boxes, plastic tubing – Halbrooks attaches the items to a wooden board by way of staples, screws, and nails. His still lifes are then obscured beneath a swathe of fabric, resulting in abstracted, almost topographical surfaces.
At first glance, the painting’s harlequin patterns appear purely abstract – undulating fields of mossy greens, claret ribbons, and sooty black stripes. Upon closer study, they unfold into a delightful shift between abstract and representational. One might wonder whether they are looking at a map, a mountain range, or a slept-in bed. Viewers may never guess that the perplexing formations are the result of carefully arranged, mysteriously shrouded, Natura Morta compositions.
Halbrooks’s inspiration for this exhibit stemmed not only from his admiration of Morandi’s nearly monastic dedication to a drab color palette, but also his commitment to painting the same mundane objects over and over. According to Halbrooks, the “un-interestingness” of Morandi’s work and his persistance of painting unremarkable objects was exciting to him.
Halbrooks received his BA in painting from the University of Evansville and a MFA in painting from Southern Illinois University. Halbrooks has worked with a wide spectrum of media, ranging from egg tempera, tar, fiberglass, and 3-dimensional sculpture. His work has been featured in over 200 juried group shows and solo exhibits, and appears in many notable private and corporate collections.
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