Imagine being a scientist or explorer in the days before photography and studying a particular ecosystem. How would you capture the sight of a rarely seen animal in its natural habitat—or the unfolding of a rare scientific phenomenon? Draw? Paint? Although creative and scientific thinking seem to counteract one another at times, there’s no denying art has served as a major tool in helping us discover and learn. Artist Brandon Guthrie explores the concept through three different media in his new collection; “Brandon Guthrie: Drawings + Paintings + Sculptures— hosted by the local cultural think tank that promotes artists, LOCAL: art + ideas—honors the tradition of naturalist art.
The one-night exhibit last weekend at Steele Music Studios (7946 Market St.) featured drawings, paintings, and sculptures “They’re all linked together aesthetically,” according to Guthrie. Each work channels a scientific exploration of fictional specimens. The juxtaposition of naturalism and fiction is oddly cohesive throughout the entire collection. Similar to the scientists that inspire him, honing in on his craft took an ample amount of experimenting.
“I had a hard time finding what my niche was while I was in grad school at Western Carolina,” Guthrie says. “I started messing around with found-object sculptures and started drawing them. That’s when I really got absorbed into the tradition of pen-and-ink.”
Using sculptures made of odd assortments of items as his subject matter, Guthrie’s style emerged through the observatory fashion used by naturalist artists of the 19th century.
“I’ve always liked John James Audubon’s drawings from his studies of American birds and how they were presented as scientific plates,” Guthrie divulges. “In the past I used to sketch my sculptures, imagining my function for them before making them. I’ve created a visual language I keep repeating over and over again. The drawings and paintings stand on their own, now. They’re not necessarily linked anymore.”
Unlike Audobon’s bird drawings, Guthrie’s work is far from cut and dry. Though fantastical overall, each piece is laden with concrete image, even though it indefinite.
“Every piece is abstract in the sense the audience won’t truly know what they’re looking at,” Guthrie clarifies. “They aren’t in recognizable forms, but there are aspects of each piece that will be familiar.”
Guthrie’s pen-and-ink drawing “Sphaira Vlucht,” for instance, depicts the head of a duck with a branch growing out of it, as it’s suspended over a spinning globe. The title is derived from the Greek translation of the words “sphere” or “globe,” and the Dutch word for “flight.”
“Almost every title is inspired by a friend’s first impression of the work,” Guthrie explains. “I take that impression and infuse Greek and Latin roots.”
Some titles are nonsensical and others are jests at recent societal blips. A painting resembling small pipes comes arranged in a seemingly symbolic fashion. Titled “Covfefe,” it’s poking fun at the sensation surrounding the president’s confusing tweet a week ago that completely disoriented the Internet. Regardless of origin, each title manages to be fitting without giving the piece concrete explanations.
“I like for people to interpret the work for themselves,” Guthrie states. “Work that is familiar, but at the same time unrecognizable is powerful because it makes the audience engage with the work. They become immersed in the creative process, even though it’s secondhand. It’s thought-provoking.”
Some of the sculptures in Guthrie’s collection, like “Hericun Rippe,” will leave viewers with plenty of questions as to how it was created. A gnarled stick, topped with a comb-like piece of plastic seems to expand out of a bowl wrapped in fabric. As it rests on top of a block, covered in what appears to be a piece of cotton material, it allows hours of attempting to piece together explanations for its structure.
Guests can contemplate the ambiguity of Guthrie’s collection online at www.local-art-ideas.com. His exhibition and sale will go live June 10 and be available through June 24.