Notes from American Art 101, Edmond Brucker, Ghost Town, Colorado

I chose this painting as a bridge between the current exhibition of work by Todd Anderson “The Mountains are Shadows” and our upcoming season of Frank Lloyd Wright inspired programs. Anderson deftly marries medium to subject, and as ghost town architecture is often found in mountainous areas I thought this painting was a great segue.

At first glance Ghost Town, Colorado by Edmond Brucker appears to be an American Scene painting from the 1930s or 40s. A gritty gray cityscape composed to emphasize the geometric shapes of the abandoned buildings, the painting depicts a unique scar on the American landscape. This painting, however, is from 1966 when pop art, photo realism and other artistic movements using bright colors and clean edges where the vogue. Brucker’s work, ignoring the contemporary trends, is grounded in that earlier era. A figurative painter who specialized in realistic portraits, Brucker nevertheless experimented with a degree of abstraction in his landscapes, works which demonstrate his strong sense of design. Brucker developed his style in the 1940s when he was a young professor at Herron School of Art in Indianapolis. His mode of operation was to begin making multiple sketches of a landscape from many angles and vantage points. The sketches were later brought together in a manner reminiscent of Cezanne or early cubism. This painting is an amalgam of architectural types from simple cottage to typical store front and steeple topped church. Though this composite of structures may not be a documentary representation, its compressed jumble of buildings conveys the genuine feel of a hastily constructed and quickly deserted town. Brucker reinforced this theme with his application of paint. In places he used the crude palate knife to scrape and trowel muted color on muted color much the way buildings are layered next to each other in an unplanned city. In other parts he used a thinned paint with quickly applied brush strokes echoing the speedy rise and decline of the community. The muted color palate and deep shadows add a sense of desolation to this Ghost Town left over from the American westward expansion. Ghost Town, Colorado is currently on view in The Mary Fendrich Hulman Gallery, containing Arts of the American West, on the second floor of the Swope.