Donald Bracken | Richard Alan Cohen | Susan Hackett | Randy Orzano

West Gallery | June 5 – July 11, 2020

Don Bracken is inspired by nature and incorporates many natural materials in his art. As a process-oriented artist, his process includes the discovery of materials, which he then synthesizes and formalizes in the studio. Much of his work references the World Trade Center and 9/11 (such as in the above photo) drawing directly from his artist residence experience with a studio on the 91st floor in 1997. His work derives heavily from both the physical landscape and the archeological traces of civilization, he often combines materials such as clay and acrylics with local earth, natural pigments, vines, leaves, roots, and seed pods. He incorporates rich texture, evocative form, and elements of color, light, and kinetics in pieces that describe life’s ephemeral transience and its constant evolution, as well as documenting the human capacity to cause decline, disorder, and chaos in the natural world. Bracken has received many awards, and his pieces are in numerous American and international collections.

Some search for landscape vistas; I seek elements of the landscape within overlooked natural details. I am privileged to live near extraordinarily beautiful forests in western Connecticut and Massachusetts where I take daily hikes through woodlands past secluded streams. Cascading waters maintain life - rushing, breathing, aglow between the boulders. Growing over the tumbling rocks, the moss is fresh and varied. These images reveal small, hidden, enchanted waterfalls, but I have provided a larger, up close perspective to emphasize their importance to us. Although dream-like, they are real places that are not immune to the influences of global warming. In “Climate Falls”, I ask the question, “What happens when a magical refuge is imperiled by climate change? What will become of the solace that we now find there?” By intentionally making these landscapes otherworldly by augmenting their scale and light, and by envisioning the risks caused by thickening clouds, gathering smoke, and advancing fires, I aim to draw attention to their fragility. By picturing the implied threat at this precarious moment, I hope to increase respect for nature so that it might be preserved.

My creative practice, sits at the intersection of what artist Makoto Fujimura calls ‘culture care’ and aesthetics. This work, ‘The Shrine of Saint Helianthus’, asks the viewer to reconsider their relationship with another form of life. Instead of appropriation and exploitation can this life form, Saint Helianthus, earn our veneration? Can we examine her historical good works and add her life to the many, many other human lives in the ‘communion of saints’? And if we can find our way to venerate Saint Helianthus, might that help us engage more deeply with still other forms of life?
The two works, ‘Eternal’ and ‘Ephemeral’ are engaged with that life-support commons we share with nearly all other life on Earth. The scientific community is still unclear how so much of this essential liquid came to be here. One theory is that much of the needed elements came from asteroids or comets the infant planet intersected in space; a newer theory, suggests that this was augmented by the solar nebula-a vast cloud of dust and gases-that remained after the sun was formed. Either way, there is no new water being made. By definition, it is impossible to create the elements, hydrogen and oxygen required to make so much as a single drop of water. In short, you and I drink the same water the dinosaurs drank. Except the dinosaurs left it in better condition. I ask the viewer how would we prefer to engage with this resource?
My work looks to engage the viewer in reflection on their personal relationship with the natural, material world.

I place paper and canvas in beehives. Concerned foremost with process, I merge the collaborative method with the natural cycle of the bee, as I reuse the hive’s own products:

  • Create drawings inspired by something found outside.
  • Cut and fold paper or canvas to create a road map for the bees.
  • Invite bees to collaborate by placing the drawing in the hive.
  • Fuse the bees ’marks with paint.

Tearing and discarding bits of paper while they work, the bees deposit wax on the surface or embalm the edges and rough surfaces with propolis. The canvas and the paper become embedded in the hive structure.
My awareness of the process and understanding of the bee have evolved from a fear of exploitation of nature to a sense of conversation. Our culture also experiences two sides in its relationship to animals: it has the potential both to harm and to nurture.