“The irony is he’s being paid the big bucks for what he was being sued for in the past,” Sandler Hudson Gallery co-owner Robin Sandler said with a laugh regarding this former graffiti artist.
Brewer’s work is being spotlighted in a solo show at Sandler’s Westside gallery through Aug. 31.
Brewer is a self-taught artist who started his creative career on the streets in Atlanta as a graffiti artist, adopting the moniker “Hense.” Like so many other talented street artists, Brewer’s work eventually moved into galleries in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. In what is perhaps the ultimate full-circle irony, Brewer is now back on the streets, creating commissioned murals on buildings.
Brewer just completed a 137-foot-tall mural on a building wall in Lima, Peru, that required the help of 10 assistants. And he recently enrobed a former church in Washington, D.C., with his signature juicy colors and playful abstract forms. This summer Brewer received the ultimate institutional pat on the back — for an Atlanta artist — when a commissioned mural on a museum wall was included in the High Museum’s “Drawing Inside the Perimeter” group exhibition of local artists.
It’s hard to shake the feeling that after glimpses of such professional inroads and massive public works, a modest gallery show of 10 works is a bit of a comedown. The giddy creativity of those large-scale commissioned works often tends to overshadow what ends up on gallery walls.
This very busy artist’s solo show, “Alex Brewer aka Hense: Prints and Paintings,” features a number of large-scale paintings and a nice suite of silkscreen monoprints in lush, intense colors with a slightly zany, retro feel. Brewer’s prints suggest the quirky ameboid shapes of Joan Miró and the bright, minimalist palette of Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly. They feature a refreshing simplicity at distinct odds with the artist’s busier, layered paintings.
The monoprints are cheery collisions of wacky shapes set against white backdrops. Pieces like “Shapes 2,” with its bold neon reds, mouthwash blues and soft grays, convey a delightful sense of play and fun not necessarily evident in Brewer’s other work. With his oddball bulbous shapes piled into a bowl-like gray form, “Shapes 2” can look like an abstracted bowl of fruit, though Brewer has noted that his work is assuredly non-representational.
Brewer’s larger paintings in house paint, spray paint, graphite, ink and acrylic on paper compress the energy and fracas of his murals into a gallery-ready format. Evoking the street aesthetic of drips and dabs, swaths of spray paint and layer upon layer of color and shape, many of these works can suggest the worked-over surfaces of urban walls.
At 55 inches by 96 inches, the typically frenetic, layered painting “Urbanism 2” is the clearest expression of that street aesthetic. The paper’s surface is so heavily coated in layers of watermelon red, pale milky blue, jolting yellow and Astroturf green paint that it evokes the texture of painted concrete walls.
The odd man out is a small piece, “Small Series 1,” that compresses Brewer’s characteristic color and energy too completely, neutralizing the work’s power.
This Sandler-Hudson solo show illustrates how more of the bold spirit of Brewer’s large scale mural work is carrying over into his gallery work. The artist’s exploration of how he can tell his story in two different forms: large murals and small gallery-ready works, is an interesting process to watch.