David Brewster: Exploring Maryland’s Social Landscape

David Brewster, Peale’s Triangle, 2017, oil on board.

David Brewster, Peale’s Triangle, 2017, oil on board.

By Nancy Nesvet

Baltimore, MD – David Brewster, originally a Marylander, now practicing in rural Vermont, is one gutsy artist. His solo exhibition at The Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore shows his depiction of events and characters important to him that should be important to all of us. The Maryland Historical Society, honoring its mission of presenting work relevant to Maryland’s history, good or bad, brutal and violent, proves equally brave in presenting Brewster’s paintings.

Exhibiting over 50 works painted between 2013 and 2017, with 67 total, including earlier work, Brewster’s speed and painting style reflect the urgency of getting the image out to the public. His compelling need to record recent events with speed and immediacy links Brewster’s work to Daumier’s cartoons, Picasso’s Guernica, Gericault’s Raft of the Medusa, Banksy’s murals and countless other work that jarred minds and influenced governments to take action.

Applied with foam paint rollers, broad strokes of jarring colors, oranges against cold blues, muddy browns enlivened with blood red comprise Brewster’s representations of the Freddy Gray aftermath: riots, burnt buildings, injured people; his concentration on showing gentrification and its displacement of those whose world is destroyed, is jarring.

The juxtaposition of Brewster’s work alongside treasures owned by the Historical Society, documenting the same issues, is brilliant. Peale’s Triangle (2017, oil), next to Charles Wilson Peale’s The James Gittings Family (1791, oil) projects the same structure; familial and compositional, but whereas the Peale Family is back grounded with a heavy brown curtain, Brewster’s family seems sheltered by a brown tent, music blaring from instruments within.

Brewster leaves no narrative ignored in his paintings addressing gender, race and class. Like the Maryland families in the Historical Society’s paintings, Brewster’s are a true depiction of what exists. Two Women Gazing at a World of Spectacle and Fear, (2016, oil), its subjects watching their homes and world destroyed as bridges and train tracks are flying at acute angles addresses gentrification. Weed Whacking Trump’s Wall (2016), featuring immigrant workers tending a wall with a concrete landscape in the background, speaks not only to the immigration debate and treatment of workers but also the destruction of nature. That’s pretty good for one painting. The text on the painting, “Los Amigos Vidos,” shows that Brewster’s heart lies in friendship.

His lyrical portraits, Latoya Edwards (1993, oil, Collection of Jeffrey Spade) is enthroned in a cathedral-shaped arch, as much a relic as any carried by the upper classes but here recalling barn wood and exhibiting a painted white row house. George (1993, oil) is painted in the simple cap and workmen’s clothes of his class and job. His Roman Soldier (2016), portrayed wearing a riot helmet, carrying a riot shield and dressed in layers (of a bullet proof vest), is painted in the cold hard steel blue of Roman legions and urban riots. The softer pink tones and nature’s greens of the veiled woman in We Should All Be Grieving (2016) elicits a universal sympathy for those caught in the aftermath.

I was cautioned by Mr. Brewster to use the term uprising instead of riot or demonstration, because the people were uprising, instituting a higher order. Tiger “Uprising” (2016, liquefied charcoal and pastel) exemplifies this aim, as his tired but determined eyes look out at us from the orange tinted canvas, full of fire possibly still burning, but also signaling the sunrise of a new day.

It is this tell-it-like-it-is attitude, tempered by a hope that a new day is rising, that makes Brewster’s work so terrific. The Maryland Historical Society is a perfect place to exhibit his work. They show what was long ago; he shows what was in the recent past, what is, and more importantly, what could be. And that, is amazing.

(“Structure and Perspective,” a solo show of David Brewster’s work, remains on view through October 14, 2018, at the Maryland Historical Society, 201 West Monument St., Baltimore, Maryland. For more information, call (410) 685-3750.)