Brian Coleman loves space. He loves the way shapes meet, perfectly aplomb, in any given space. The space becomes filled, expands, becomes layered, textured. The space becomes a place.
In Structures (Now and Later) the Charlotte, NC based painter creates individual finite spaces, coming together as a mini oeuvre, a linear place. Coleman does not always work in such a measured fashion — throughout the year, the artist will vacillate between frenetic brushstrokes and carefully placed lines. It’s fitting, though, that for his first solo show of 2018 Coleman would choose to delve into the equanamity of order. It feels like a fresh start, a gentle revisiting, a building up.
“The background to it is years ago I collected different shapes and forms from paintings I already did and drew them on paper,” says Coleman. “I made a kind of library on my studio wall, and began to think of [the drawings] as structures. They had a sculptural feel.”
From these drawings Coleman has created 14 large-scale paintings. There’s the striking 60″x48″ “Megaphone” comprised of deep blues and light, textured grays. There’s the soft but captivating 48″x48″ “Wednesday,” a horizontal study of rectangles, triangles, and negative space. Flip it on its side, and it could serve as the blueprint for a modern building.
Coleman, who has a degree in graphic design, has always been inspired by architecture. For this particular exhibit, he drew inspiration from two architects: American Louis Kahn and Italian Carlo Scarpa. “I’m specifically pulling from light, shadows, angles, and negative space within the architecture,” says Coleman. “I’m always kind of getting inspiration from looking at their catalogue [Kahn and Scarpa]. If there’s something I see, I pull simple negative space within the architecture that struck me as something I wanted to use. A simple angle or a shadow cast from an angle.”
Considered one of the United States’ greatest architects of the 20th century, Kahn combined elements of Modernism with ancient structures. His work can be found all over the world, from a boarding school library in New Hampshire to the National Assembly Building in Bangladesh. The latter’s monunmental gentle curves and careful consideration of space are reminiscent of Coleman’s “Wednesday.” But of course, “Wednesday” came later, and Coleman is the student in this scenario. His now is Kahn’s later.
Scarpa, on the other hand, was an underappreciated 20th century architect who was not fully recognized for his work until after WWII. Like Kahn, Scarpa’s work drew on clean lines and modern elements, but Scarpa’s structures were arguably more detailed, with an attention to materials and the way base and precious mediums worked together. Again, Coleman’s work hints at this detail, like in the 48″x48″ “Everything All The Time (wishing machine),” a piece clearly based in geometric patterns, overlaid with rich textures of overlapping lines. “I’m always drawn to patterns and surfaces from the interior and exterior of buildings, which translates to this show,” says Coleman. “Canvases, stripes, grids, colors that intersect and overlap, a look of stone.”
These drawings turned paintings turned exhibit are all leading up to what Coleman hopes is real stone. “I’ve done small scale ceramic, wood, different material sculptures,” says Coleman. “I haven’t done anything on a large scale. I would love to take two or three pieces out of the canvas and replicate with stone or concrete. I’ve always built up structural pieces, whether organic or geometric but it’s kind of like what I’m doing now is to prepare for sculpture.”
Coleman’s two dimensional large scale paintings are an invitation, a doorway or threshold or rooftop. They feel like they could become something more, take up more space, become places with names and locations and visitors. For now, though, they possess only the look of sculptures, without the jutting edges of concrete or smooth roundness of stone. They’re an invitation to find balance in the now, while considering what is to come, later.