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Who Is This?

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 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 paint-by-numbers quality. They form a commentary on the compose-by-numbers 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: 2021

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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, 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 oggle 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 interaction and the human form itself has become difficult and contentious, and so we retreat to the comforts of electronic devices whose screens pull us away from one another 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

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Artist Statement: 2016

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More frightful than our own devolution into infantilism is the concomitant progression of technology that accelerates transhumanism, itself part and parcel of our transformation. For now we see through a glass electronically, one that reflects back the pixelated bytes of our dissociation from the wellspring of flesh that is, in fact, our life. And so it follows that our vision breaks all colors into their constituent parts, making a mosaic whose total may only be apprehended from a distance that we may no longer achieve with ease. Beauty is evanescent: take what pleasure you can from it with what brief encounters it provides you, lest the URL suddenly change.

—Thomas M. Brodhead, 14 February 2016

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Artist Statement: 2014

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Despite their efforts to the contrary, the abstract expressionist artists of the 20th century failed in their attempt to create visual works unfit for homes and places of casual viewing. Since their creations spoke directly to the core of the human experience, and especially to its horrors denuded so completely by the World Wars, their works rightfully belonged in venues where viewers could contemplate their meanings in quasi-religious silence.

It is ironic, therefore, that these pieces now adorn the hearths of humans of all social strata in the First World, providing neutral background noise among the fineries and finishes of the modern dwelling space—a space so overvalued that the world economy nearly collapsed from its hubris in 2008. And in this cowardly new world full of money-mongering, prideful hominids—especially among the ugly Americans, electronically connected but spiritually vapid—art has regressed into conventions of false pleasantries: regardless of its locus along the axis connecting the abstract to the representational, first-world viewers only seek works that reinforce a false reality.

For them, art masks their actual state within an overcrowded orb filled with disease, poverty, and septic living conditions that billions of beings endure in order to allow the American Dream to spread metastatically through all populations with any wealth whatsoever. It is therefore an insult to humanity for art to ignore this reality.

By presenting images that are merely soothing to the eye—without any thesis of what Western Man has become—contemporary art participates in a group hypnosis sponsored by commerce and effected by technology. An individual life is meaningless in this context, as anything unpleasant may be switched off or be replaced with a more soothing image simply by moving from one URL to another. We are insidiously inured to all that should rightfully be shocking and paradigm-shifting to us, but instead, tragically, these things only function as entertainment to us.

With this devaluation of human life—the central and most horrifying effect of our electronic culture—comes the New Man: a callow child of immeasurable immaturity, one whose tantric tantrums reveal a cartoonish soul devoid of depth, wedded to greed, and inseparable from the material. The artist must create works that expose this inner child turned outer monster, a truer representation of the heavyweight primate that dominates this world in a bubble of wealth-shielded ignorance.

The gauntlet is thrown before the viewer to dare consider each of the artist's works as a mirror on which to scry the Western soul. We must summon the courage to discard all that is merely pleasant to behold (on a living-room wall, hung above fine furniture, of course) in favor of what is truthful and revealing about ourselves. Art must speak to the unpleasant reality of who WE have become, and it must challenge us to consider our shameful, immature, and self-absorbed state as frightful children with fully-developed sexual appendages: we are but feral beasts of insatiable appetite for cancerous consumption in every imaginable category.

So, there. How ‘bout dem apples?

—Thomas M. Brodhead, 14 November 2014

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