Saturday, September 20, 2014

ESSAY: The Other, Michael Brodeur

THE OTHER, MICHAEL BRODEUR                           By Wim Roefs

“At first glance,” Michael Brodeur says, “my work is about many things: exacting formal balance, quality of edge, light, space and form, subtle surface and color, or abstraction through selective editing of shape, texture and detail.” Collectively, Brodeur continues, these formal characteristics “create a poetic clarity through which metaphysical events occur: a tense ‘dialogue’ between two objects placed precisely on a table, a mysterious meeting at the edge of shadow and light, and the resounding silence of solitude.” But the work is not just about metaphysical dialogues, meetings and silences. “My work is a personal narrative. Each painting, every drawing is an autobiographical recounting. They all speak to relationship, either one with self or with others.”
         Brodeur’s work is autobiographical in the immediate sense of dealing with his personal life, including love relationships that didn’t last. Some paintings relate specifically to his experiences as a gay man. “The works are,” Brodeur says, “in part a dismantling of stereotypes, reaction to prejudice, historical tutorials, humor in the face of adversity and, most importantly, the emphasis of what we have in common over our differences. In essence, the particulars of my life such as love, intimate relationships, loneliness, joy, friendships, and childhood abuse become a lens through which to view and relate with universal human experience.”
The paintings also are autobiographical in the broader sense of Brodeur’s identity as someone from a working class and Catholic background who is gay. His preference for painting humble, mundane objects such as plastic cups, tin bowls or throwaway containers, focusing on their forms rather than utility and redeeming them as worthy, even beautiful objects resonates both with his Catholic and working class background. “Christianity is full of references to the transformation of humble matter into something of nobler substance, within the context of the occurrence: water into wine, bread into the Eucharist. In my childhood the Gospel read at Mass emphasized this transformative aspect. Of particular resonance is the reading from Matthew 23:12 – He who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself, will be exalted.”
Using mundane objects also is a rebuke of upper-class assumptions about the lower and working classes’ lack of refined sensibilities, civic virtues, aspirations and ambitions, Brodeur says. It is, furthermore, a critique of the increasingly unsustainable notion of a classless society and of the American ideal that hard work and determination is all it takes to rise as high as you want. “I don’t resent the upper classes,” Brodeur says, “but I am thumbing my nose at some of the assumptions and smugness found within that class, including the myth of self-made wealth and the self-righteous blaming of the working- and under-classes for not being more successful.”
Which aspect of his background is most important for his life and work is impossible to determine, Brodeur says. “How can you separate the components? One thing that ties it all together is the sense of being ‘other.’ In this sense, being gay carries more stigma than the other two, but all conspire along with being an artist, being of French-Canadian descent, being a small person in a big person world, etc., to position me outside of mainstream culture. This is an advantageous place from which to observe, analyze and make connections between my work and the dominant culture, which I could not do if I felt more included.”
                                    Wim Roefs is the owner of if ART Gallery

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