Furious faces fill The Foundry

By Sharon Smullen
Published May 3, 2019
The Berkshire Eagle

WEST STOCKBRIDGE — On the walls of The Foundry’s light-filled gallery space, 18 oversized drawings of women’s faces look down with anger.

Rendered on white paper with monochromatic black mixed media — charcoal, graphite, ink, gesso and acrylic — expressions grimace in frustration, mouths pursed and cringing, eyes wide with rage.

Titled “Is There No Decency? Angry Faces, Dark Landscapes and Native Habitat,” New Jersey-based artist and educator Pat Brentano’s exhibit grew from a deep concern for endangered birds and trees.

“When the present administration started cutting regulations to allow more destruction of the natural world,” the Indiana native said in a phone interview, “I had to say something.”

To release that pent-up emotion, Brentano asked female family members and friends to submit selfies expressing outrage at the current political climate toward women and the environment, then translated them to linear drawings, layering some to create visual turmoil.

Women are nurturers of families and the Earth who have also been treated poorly, she said, and selfies reflect today’s self-oriented culture.

“The [faces] are about how angry I am about the deregulation of our natural resources and lack of emergency about climate change,” she said.

Drawing is Brentano’s passion. “I was classically trained as an artist and so the quality of line is really important to me,” she said.

While she taught figure drawing in the past, this is her first foray into portraits.

Paper is her preferred medium. “I love drawing on paper, painting on paper, cutting paper,” she said. “It comes from trees and is very organic.

“As a little girl, my father, who was in advertising, used to bring home piles of paper. It was clean and white, and I loved to draw on it with crayons.”

There is no color in these faces, though, only black and white. “It’s pure for me, very dramatic,” she said, noting her attraction to the dark side of horror movies and theater.

The exhibit also includes a selection of Brentano’s past works.

“My work is always about nature in some way,” she said. “Nature is not neat and orderly, and there’s beauty in that. I draw what is messy and organic, and dense.”

 

She decries destructive cookie-cutter approaches to taming nature in the built-up landscape, and talks to garden clubs about how she transformed her suburban yard using native plants.

The charcoal images of “Dark Landscapes” journey deep into mysterious woods, while color abounds in “Native Habitat” through watercolor and collage, plus painted forests glimpsed in long narrow strips.

By contrast, daylight illuminates birds and nature hand-cut from Japanese paper sheets in gallery windows, surrounding a laser-cut flock of endangered birds on an aluminum panel.

While Brentano has exhibited work across the U.S., this is her first solo show in the Berkshires. A decade ago, she participated twice in Chesterwood’s group sculpture exhibition, winning the 2009 Curator’s Award for avian depictions.

“The Berkshires is so natural and beautiful,” she said, “people appreciate what’s around them and try to preserve it.”

And she knows the area well, as The Foundry was purchased earlier this year by her sister, Amy Brentano. The 17-year Richmond resident, who has a background in theater, education and New York City event coordinating, envisions a center for art and performance, “a holding tank for emerging artists and relevant, challenging new work that is accessible for a diverse audience.”

Plans also include a riverside gathering space.

“I want the community to feel some ownership of this project,” Amy Brentano said, “and I want to support local businesses.”

Currently, The Foundry houses Bazaar Productions theater company and a farmers market, with planned collaborations with non-profits, like Jacob’s Pillow and Railroad Street Youth Project.

While the studio space is reconfigured as a black box theater, Amy Brentano installed her sister’s art show “to put something up right away that invited people in.”

For now, performances take place amid the artworks, which Amy Brentano describes as “dramatic and charismatic, very theatrical.”

She reports the exhibit has generated a lot of dialogue since the March opening. On Friday, May 10, at 6:30 p.m., women writers will respond in a free evening of poetry and spoken word with refreshments.

Pat Brentano will also lead a two-day workshop on June 1 and 2 introducing the visual language of seeing nature to artists and non-artists alike.

“She’s a really prolific artist and I’m thrilled to have her work here,” Amy Brentano said. “I hope people can come and enjoy it.”

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