To read a Personal Journey about Alex Brewer (aka Hense), go to specials.myajc.com/reinvention-hense.
Alex Brewer is undoubtedly the Atlanta creative who has most successfully made the transition from a teenage graffiti artist to established gallery artist.
Included in exhibitions at the High Museum and in four solo shows at the Westside's Sandler Hudson Gallery, Brewer, aka Hense, has also continued to find success creating his large, color-drenched murals on commission in locations all over the world, from grain silos in Australia to Facebook's global headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Pretty good for a self-taught artist who dropped out of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Brewer’s latest show at Sandler Hudson, “Cut: New Works on Wood,” declares an admirable desire to grow as an artist, rather than merely continuing on the path that has garnered Brewer success in the past. But while the approach in “Cut” is not always on the mark, these new works show an artist engaged in the fruitful process of deconstructing and decoding his own artistic impulses.
In works that blend painting and sculpture, Brewer has isolated and abstracted the color and line that define his paintings by cutting the shapes that populate his paintings and murals out of plywood. It is as if Brewer is taking the painted swaths of color on his canvases and translating them into objects. He then uses screws to secure those brightly painted teardrops, squirts, skinny rectangles, ovals and puzzle pieces onto wooden backdrops, both painted and plain. As with his murals, those jigsaw-cut, boldly colored shapes can sometimes suggest the graphic energy of Joan Miro or Alexander Calder.
In “Untitled,” Brewer lines up those shapes in orderly rows like Colorforms on a kindergarten classroom felt board. But in most of these mixed media works on wood, the shapes are a cacophony of canted, gyrating, mania-like buzzing molecules or highly charged magnets whose opposite charges animate the space between them. Some of these shapes are marked with dots and slashes and frantic lines, while others are left unpainted to reveal their pressed wood composition or patterned with drips of paint to show the hand of the artist at work.
In an installation commanding a large wall at the gallery entrance, “21 Shapes,” Brewer detaches those shapes from their wood backdrops, placing those sculptural forms — oblong blogs, crescent moons and U-shapes — against the gallery wall itself. Bold, sugary colors dominate: cotton candy pink, the blue of cartoon swimming pools, lime green and sunflower yellow that dance across the wall.
The pieces convey, in new form, some of the same sense of movement as Brewer’s better-known murals. But while I admire the artist’s desire to isolate and examine the constituent parts of his paintings, I’m not sure the result is especially revealing or as visually engaging as some of his other work.
The most interesting pieces in “Cut” may be Brewer’s drawings, 15 of which are hung on a back wall of the gallery. Many are executed in Brewer’s signature juicy color palette, with its particular focus on hot pinks and Gatorade blues, though a fair number unfold in shades of black, white and gray to explore an interesting new mood. These works on paper are terse, elegant and work beautifully together with their modulations in minimalist and maximalist colors. In these works, Brewer achieves a harmony and visual engagement far more interesting than in his deconstructed, sculptural mixed media works.
“Cut” is often a reminder that Brewer’s forte is collision and juxtaposition, and his best murals are melees of line, color and pattern that stand in for the visual excess and energy of the cities where he paints them.