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About the Artist

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A native of St. Louis who’s lived in middle Tennessee most of his life, Thomas Brodhead studied classical music theory, history, and composition at Oberlin in the 1980s. During those years, he pored over classical scores while studying orchestral and chamber works, unaware that he was absorbing geometric graphic design that’s been in his blood ever since.

After college, he worked as a classical sheet music editor and engraver (music typesetter) for 20 years, writing original computer programs to set music notation so that it conformed to the best Greek proportions and geometries. (Importantly, he produced a Critical Performing Edition of the Fourth Symphony of Charles Ives, a work so rhythmically complex that it requires at least two—if not three—conductors to perform.)

But arranging black glyphs on white paper grew tiresome, and starting in 2009, he turned to color and began to paint. At first, his paintings were cartoonish and comical, always paired with tongue-in-cheek artist statements on the meaning of each piece. Over time, though, he began to take his work more seriously, exploring color and geometry on large canvases (up to 4 feet by 3 feet), but never failing to pen an accompanying whimsical statement. But more and more the whimsy veiled serious social commentary, often on the dangers of transhumanism (the integration of humans and technology) and the infantilizing effects of social media. Painting and writing thus combined in a Wagnerian Gesamtkunswerk, in which the combination of the two formed the total artwork.

He joked that his early humorous style—cartoonish and splattery, with an emphasis on narrative—was “on an overlooked axis connecting Jackson Pollock and Norman Rockwell.” But after studying the color theory of Albert Munsell and discovering the joyous geometries of the artist Stuart Davis, his work took a sharp turn. Still working on larger canvases, he began planning each work in detail, defining the exact composition of its figures and determining its color scheme in advance. The execution of the paintings took longer and longer, one even clocking in at 160 hours.

Borrowing a technique from 20th century classical music—and a technique perhaps never before applied to visual art—he produced a series of fractalized paintings that, at times, have a dizzying macro-pointilistic quality. They form a commentary on the serial technique of mid-century atonal composers, and are directly informed by the grayscale color theories of Albert Munsell. Since then, his style has returned to its comical roots, but with grayscales jettisoned for bold colors and the large, jazzy geometries of the American painter Stuart Davis.

His work undoubtedly owes a debt to the music of Charles Ives, whose polyrhythmic and polytemporal sonic landscapes translate into the intersecting planes of color and contrast that he hopes will delight the viewer. Just as Ives depicted the transcendent chaos of American life in sound, Brodhead mirrors the electronic entropy of our hyperconnected lives with color.

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Artist Statement: 2022

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I enjoy the interplay of geometry and color, and I try to capture that dance with geometric constructions that suggest childlike, whimsical characters, thus creating visuals I hope will reveal more upon each viewing. But I also revel in the absurd, and so I pair each painting with an original, tongue-in-cheek statement that parodies the work itself (or perhaps even a viewer who might take it all too seriously).

I suspect I’m channeling the pixelated colors of computer screens that we all ogle daily, and in that lies an irony. If Moore’s law is accurate, technology produces newer and greater creature-comforts every 18 months, something that should create a more peaceable kingdom for us all. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, we’re regressing into a childlike state of tribalism and discontent. Human interactions have become difficult and contentious, so we retreat to the comfort of electronic devices whose screens pull us farther away from one another—the very source of the problem—rather than moving us into communion.

My work thus reflects—in a fundamental, primitive way—the shifting colors and shapes of the screens that draw us in, and the oft-times infantilizing effects they have on our psychologies and ourselves.

—Thomas M. Brodhead, 24 April 2021, rev. 22 September 2022

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