Pegan Brooke: Selected Paintings at George Lawson Gallery

By Dewitt Cheng
Art Ltd. Magazine
March 2015

Sky Mall magazine is no more, faster means of shopping having killed this once-ubiquitous airline reading fare. Not to equate contemporary art with Bauhaus-inspired goldfish bowls, but the growing importance of art fairs and online art sales raises concern about the future of serious art that takes time to see, and needs to be seen in person, its materiality and craftsmanship impossible to convey photographically. The landscape-inspired paintings of Pegan Brooke, with their atmospherically modulated minimalist grids or brick courses, demand and reward attentive looking; they’re quiet meditations on nature and painterly perception that challenge the current obsolescence paradigm: art that stays art, to paraphrase Picasso.

Included in the exhibition are seven vertical-format oil paintings of modest dimensions, with three at 30-by-24 inches and four in the four-by-five foot range. All are untitled, but numbered, with the “S” designating that they were painted in Sun Valley, Idaho, where Brooke maintains a studio. Skiers will undoubtedly recognize the subtle palette of snow-covered mountains here, but small touches of color interwoven in the fabric of brushstrokes lend vivacity and vitality—as do fluctuations in paint transparency and graphic gesture. Austere mountain landscapes these may be, and filtered through an abstract schema, but the effect is anything but drily intellectual. Brooke’s landscapes marry the exalted pantheism of romantic 19th-century painters like Caspar David Friedrich and Ferdinand Hodler with the process-based spirituality of Agnes Martin. The rich textures, composed of gestural marks—which suggest inchoate texts to readerly types—and her silvery-gray palette (enlivened by mica-flake iridescence) have something of Jasper Johns as well, while the tremulous, living surfaces suggest Morandi. These are paintings that are engaged in a dialogue with the culture of art history as well as with living nature.

Brooke has written, “Nature challenges us to contemplate a deeper understanding of what our lives are and leads us to recognition of the interconnectedness of all things.” It could be said that art also makes such challenges—if we are willing to drop the knowing attitude of the savvy shopper and engage with work that aspires to do more than embody disposable income.


DeWitt Cheng is an artist, collector, freelance art writer, educator, and curator based in San Francisco.