On view now through August 5, eight mixed media collage works, including a sculpture, by Douglas Breault, are featured in “Soft Focus,” an exhibition at the Fort Point Arts Community Main Gallery showing some of the best approaches to contemporary conceptual art happening right now.
The works on view are a perfect blending of physicality and intellectualism. Breault is a visual composer of subtle narratives, at first appearing completely abstract engaging only form and materials, but then slowly revealing poignant, mysterious and poetic stories. For Breault, the art arrives from a place of realism. From a solid place, he allows the materials themselves to express their true rawness and emotive situations to live and expand out, transmuting into unexpected ideas. What appears as happenstance and chaos is organized, purposeful and planned. From physical real points, Breault then pushes the tangible into the conceptual to extract deeper feeling and possibilities.
What does this mean? He takes photographs, paint, plastic, paper and whatever other objects he’s exploring at the moment and works and/or composes them into final forms that simultaneously reveal and hide information. At the center of the exhibition is a sculpture: “Shadow of a Doubt,” an assemblage featuring a discarded and refound stepladder, mirrors, lights and a painting underneath. The beauty of this piece is in its encouragement to the viewer to be part of the work. By standing in front of the mirror, the viewer is able to see their own feet, suggesting the active stepping onto the object, and the painting underneath which is colored in moody gothic black, pinks, blues and yellows allusions to cloud space, night, shadows and skyscape.
The work encourages questions: Is the artist playing with the idea of stairway to heaven? Breault does not tell us directly what the pieces is about, which is the charm and power of his work. The ladder itself has had its functional identity removed, and yet, it still retains an element of its original purpose. Breault leaves meaning open to investigation. None of the works on view have labels next to them with explanations, allowing the viewer to conjure up their own ideas. Without subject context, “Shadow of a Doubt” is an excellent mixed-in-process sculpture that’s both a viewer interactive assemblage and painting. Through emotional investigation, however, the sculpture radiates a feeling of possible transition and deep meaning.
In direct dialogue with this work is “Smoke and Mirrors,” a mixed media collage featuring an enlarged photograph of a hand on top of a textured painted surface with an overlay of basic clear plastic held up with blue painter’s tape. As a collage painting, it is about the play of light and dark, exploring impressions and texture. The image is of an abstracted ghostly hand, a fragment only, a suggestion to a memory. Of this work and another excellent composition, “Give Me a Moment,” which also features a photographic collaged element, Breault said, “When information is missing, we fill in the blanks.” Both works are about distortion – what is real and what is false, and the reinvention of object identity.
“Give Me a Moment” is one of the best pieces on view, complete in all ways as a final form. It is a collage mixed media painting, again with plastic overlay. The materials are allowed to exist in their rawness with a lot of natural variations showing beautiful imperfection. At the center is a black-and-white photograph fragment of a leg and foot within an ambiguous setting, perhaps a room. The blue, black and white stripes mimic the step ladder sculpture “Shadow of a Doubt,” suggesting, again, a transition into another space/environment, and or the foggy recollection of a time past. The physical and solid condition of an interior space with the conceptual atmospheric feeling of time and movement is also the narrative in the next best work in the exhibition, “Summer Wind,” a small collage work, again with photographic collage, painted surfaces and plastic overlay giving the entire piece a dreamlike, soft-focus quality.
Douglas Breault received his MFA from the School of Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in 2017, and he currently teaches art at Bridgewater State University. He talks about his creative process here:
JFM: THE WORK ORIGINATED IN MAINE AND TRAVELLED TO MASSACHUSETTS, TELL US ABOUT THE PROCESS OF CREATING IT ORIGINALLY, WHAT INSPIRED THESE PIECES?
DB: The work began with the idea of translating fuzzy memories through a process of mimicry and abstraction into something tangible. I am more sentimental than I initially thought- saving old photographs, contact sheets, furniture, and messy notes in my journal. I like to test the capacity and limitations of the internet in memorializing memories, often printing low-resolution images into large prints, embracing the pixilation and glitches. Many of the images I find online are Google Street View captures of important houses and locations, archived images of family members, or appropriated photographs where a location or person is in the image that I feel connected to. When I collect, and assemble these fragmented materials, I am able to connect the dots between object, image and narrative into a designed physical existence.
IT’S OBVIOUS YOU LOVE RAW TEXTURE AND MATERIAL AUTHENTICITY, WHY DO YOU PREFER THE ‘MESSY LOOK’ IN ART?
For me, materiality is essential to work through my ideas, subordinating form to process. I think things can appear haphazard because of the immediacy of working out an idea, but also because the materials aren’t disguised. The use of plastic, tape or photographs is meant to be apparent to the viewer. I like making the construction of the layers apparent – for example being able to see how a photograph is cut and glued and layered in a less formal display than traditional photography. I have never really had the ability to sit at an easel patiently. When I am making a body of work I work on multiple things at once, and I am bouncing around my studio in short bursts, often pacing in the in-between moments where I am looking at the pieces in progress. I feel comfortable being able to pour, cut, glue, stretch and paint in a really physical manner which leaves little room to be precise or delicate.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR DOUG BREAULT? ARE YOU EXPANDING THIS SERIES, OR STARTING ANOTHER?
I tend to work on a lot of different projects and series simultaneously, and I bounce between them. I will continue to make work in this series and I would like to continue to push the scale larger. I would love the idea of possibly creating an outdoor sculpture, and I am researching different materials that would be able to survive the elements and have some permanence. I am also working on a series of still life photographs where the collage is almost deconstructed and documented, using mirrors and lights to generate small spaces that are documented with photography.
(“Douglas Breault: Soft Focus” remains on view through August 5 at the Fort Point Arts Community Main Gallery, 300 Summer St., Boston, Massachusetts, which is also exhibiting “John S. Dykes: Pop Culture and Advertising: 1960 Meets 2020” and “Karen McFeaters: In Flux: The Landscape of Boston.” The gallery is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and by appointment. For more information, visit fortpointartsorg.)