Across America, we are seeing more psychological surrealism in art. Artists are showing more representational paintings based on first-person narratives and personal meanings.
In general, we are comfortable with the difference between metaphor (this means that) and narrative (a story), but in a post post-modern era where dreams, fantasies and personal narratives are almost universally accepted as valid artistic content, classical concepts of figurative speech — such as allegory — are resurging.
Kyle Bryant’s prints at A Fine Thing: Ed Pollack Fine Arts in Portland are tethered both to the most current important trends in art such as “street art” and “wheatpasting” but no less to classical print artists such as Durer and Piranesi.
What Bryant shares with Piranesi’s “Prisons” and Swoon’s wheatpasted street prints is a complete submersion in the metaphor of mind as a multifaceted and irrational space in which we genuinely exist — if at all.
Bryant’s woodcuts in “The Things We Carry” intend to ride his personal experience and so create metaphors deeply rooted in his own visions, but they are ultimately built of shared scenes of public culture: words, religion, buildings, art and the language, even, of self-expression.
“Back on the Map” appears the weakest piece in the show because of its awkward draftsmanship, but it is nonetheless the linchpin. It shows an old Nissan pickup from the back. Bryant’s imagination added wood sides and rims to his beloved old friend. The truck is empty and ready to go, echoing the maxim: “The most useful cup is an empty cup.”
In “Moving Season,” a man carries a towering stack of empty cardboard file boxes. It’s a bleak but fascinating image that calls out for interpretation. I see a forward-moving model of the mind — ready to take in whatever experiences the future may bring.
The star of the show is “A Long Break from Love,” a giant image of a donkey carrying a towering pile of detritus. What at first looks like junk (broken wood, rope, shattered building materials) is quickly revealed to be mostly architectural imagery as though buildings themselves were piled together. At the top is a staircase on which a woman is walking up and away.
In the context of the show, “Long Break” posits the architecture of experience is built from bits of memory that affect each other. (I think it’s very cool the steamroller print of “Long Break” from Space Gallery’s Block Party was purchased for the PMA by Bruce Brown.)
Bryant takes the pack-animal idea down a different road in his “St. Christopher.” With clearer references to classical imagery, Christopher (the patron saint of travelers) glares with annoyance at Jesus, who sits atop the saint’s over-burdened pack. Recognizable by his cruciform halo, Jesus hasn’t aged well, having become a large, bald and wide-mouthed blathering burden.
Yet Bryant doesn’t succumb to angry iconoclasm, because his Christopher is powerful, accomplished and personally opinionated.
Like wheatpaste artists, Bryant’s style is loose, but with his training, sensibilities and skills, his bold power attains that of German Expressionist woodcuts. His draftsmanship is apt but not fussy, and his forms are visually solid.
The street art and graffiti references might be intimidating to some print collectors, but they really shouldn’t be, because Bryant seeks to echo the marks of the classical artists with their engravers and printers. The initials “SDF” show up in many of the prints more in this spirit than to hail the “SDF” group of artists.
Most fascinating to me is Bryant’s giant “Debticated,” in which a huge and fanciful oil tanker seems to be pulled into port or over the edge of the earth by its animated figurehead — a massive eagle with a serpent’s body that runs along the side of the ship.
Between the listing of the ship and the words hidden in the scriptlike designs on its side (“Real World Finale”), it’s tempting to go with the apocalyptic reading.
But Bryant’s work is very funny and tends to be sweet despite its powerfully bleak aesthetics, so the words could just as easily be a plea to end a certain television reality show that has overstayed its welcome.
Bryant is young, brilliant and chock-a-block with talent. If “The Things We Carry” is any indication of things to come, then he is an artist to watch.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at: