If minimalism and optical art were two trees, Bob Bryden could be found lounging on a hammock tied between them. The artist’s preference for pared-down design, combined with layering complex color combinations, has established a seemingly comfortable place to lay one’s eyes. Whether they remain stationary is another story.
On Friday Wilma W. Daniels Gallery (200 Hanover St.) will present “Bob Bryden: Works on Paper.” The show comprises new and old pieces from line drawings to abstract patterns. All adhere to the artist’s practice of compiling fundamental visual components, like line, color and shape, and overprinting them in a complex fashion.
“When you take a blank sheet of paper and make one mark you have done an immense amount of visual work,” Bryden says. “All of a sudden you’ve created space, form, figure, background, and foreground. You’ve created perspective. I’m interested in the processes that take place after the first mark . . . in doing such a simple thing and then multiplying that out.”
Bryden’s educational path telescoped in a similar fashion. His undergraduate career was earmarked by a focus on Asian philosophy and art history. When he got the itch to do more creative work, he entered graduate school at University of Kentucky at Louisville with a concentration in printmaking.
Today his artful vision is further fleshed out in his personal surroundings. When I visited his home-studio, it was clear he had a hand in its design. The modern structure and its interior are unapologetically bare and full of form. Glossed metal ceiling beams flex in the open air. The square-shaped windows—unburdened by curtains—are numerous and allow light to pour in from all directions. The view from his studio reveals a football field’s worth of glistening swampland, accentuated by rows upon rows of reed grass. If he were to recreate this scene, it would be presented in its rawest nature, using point, line and plane.
The essential elements of drawing are key, according to Bryden. When combined with an array of printmaking techniques, his work becomes process-driven. “I work a lot with overprinting color, overprinting line pattern and dot patterns, and color field patterns to create secondary patterns, which then I overprint again and again and again. Each one creates another secondary pattern. It’s exponential.”
Utilizing found and simple traditional materials like rubber stamps, Bryden creates the foundation design of his pieces. Once a plate is set, he transfers to paper and overprints using a wet-on-wet ink application. After 20 to 30 passes, the design moves outward like a relief. This effect, combined with a vibrant color palette, bends a viewer’s perception to create movement and serendipitous images.
“The color rendition in the artwork begins to depend on how people see,” the artist expounds. “This color and that color juxtapose and it does a certain thing to your vision; if it didn’t, [my art] wouldn’t work.”
Many of Bryden’s brightly colored works are inspired by optical art from the 1960s. A newer piece, “Spectral Array,” presents intersecting columns gradated out in shades of red, blue and orange. The multi-layers of ink create a rich fabric-like appearance and make the image pop right off of the paper. Viewers who look longer than a few moments will notice their ocular senses shift into overdrive. Suddenly, the pattern is being scoured for secrets like the once popular Magic Eye posters.
Bryden’s abstract watercolor prints are also of note. The process, which involves transference of watercolor pigmented lens tissue onto paper, was actually created by him. Once tissue shapes are cut and placed on paper, colors are manipulated with water to create psychedelic patterns and movement. When dry, the tissue is peeled away and the process is repeated with new and more complex shapes.
The methods and techniques implemented truly enhance the quality of his images. Whether playful or puzzling, the images serve up an ocular feast with a side of conversation.
“Everybody who looks at my work says the same thing,” he recalls. “‘You may be a good artist, you may be a bad artist, but you’re certainly a consistent artist.’”
See “Bob Bryden: Works on Paper” Wilma W. Daniels Gallery, opening Friday, Feb. 26, with a reception from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. Artwork will hang until March 24.