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Art Notes: Pomfret’s Peter Brooke Paints From Memory

  • Artist Peter Brooke is photographed in the studio near his home in North Pomfret, Vt., on Dec. 6, 2017. Brooke's paintings of American landscapes are drawn from memory, "the imagined and the real." (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Peter Brooke's 2016 oil on panel "Prairie Oxbow." (Courtesy Peter Brooke)

  • Peter Brooke's 2012 oil on panel "Flash and Fall." (Courtesy Peter Brooke)



Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, December 14, 2017

Peter Brooke’s landscapes may look like places you can find on a map, but seeing doesn’t always correspond to literal truth.

His meticulous paintings, done both on wooden panels and on paper, exist somewhere between memory, dreamscape and fantasy. They slide into the gap between what we remember of a place, and what it actually is; it’s not the location itself that he wants to depict, necessarily, but our relationship to it, he said.

“I’m particularly interested in how memory functions,” Brooke said in an interview in his North Pomfret studio.

Built in 1999, the big, open studio is in a separate building from the home he shares with his wife, Ruth Brooke, and their two teenage children.

Brooke has shown his work at well-known galleries in Boston, New York and Philadelphia and at BigTown Gallery in Rochester, Vt. In the spring of 2018, a catalogue of his work will be published by the Woodstock imprint Valise, an offshoot of Glenn Suokko Design.

Brooke doesn’t call himself a plein air painter because he never works outside. (Outside is where he goes to hike, climb and explore.) Rather he draws from memory back in the studio, and bases his luminous and sometimes ethereal paintings on his recollections of a place.

“I find my memory is richer than my immediate response to light,” he said.

He paints by subtraction, he said. For every dab of paint he adds, he scrapes some away, which results in a seamless, meticulously detailed surface that is close to photo-realism. But photo-realism isn’t really what he’s after.

Brooke paints hills and mountains, seascapes and marshes, fields and woods, most of which have some basis in a place he’s been, whether that’s Vermont, Ireland, Maine or the American West. But they could as easily represent an imaginative, mythic landscape that is as ephemeral as our memories of it.

It’s not an exact analogy, but Brooke likens some of his work to Chinese scroll painting. An unrolling scroll is a journey through time and space, and an opportunity for contemplation, Brooke said. When the scroll is put away rather than permanently displayed, as is customary in Chinese culture, the viewer depends on his or her memory to call the art to mind. Unreliable memory fills in or takes away detail, and makes the work something else.

Brooke, 56, grew up outside Boston, and graduated from Denison University in Ohio. He earned an MFA from the Mount Royal School of Painting at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Although he worked at an ad agency in Boston after college, he painted as often as he could and made the decision to study further, because if he didn’t, he said, he thought he’d be a “grumpy old man.”

He started as an abstract painter, but when he landed a job teaching art at St. Andrew’s School, in Delaware, he was struck by the “incredible juxtaposition of marsh and industrial landscapes.” He drifted away from abstraction to landscape.

He taught at St. Andrew’s for 10 years, but then decided, he said, that he’d “graduated from high school enough.” He and his wife made the move to Vermont in 1989, where Brooke had spent time with his family during childhood and adolescence.

More recently he has embarked on paintings of both contrails and woodlands. He and a friend found an abandoned hamlet near Hancock, Vt., with the usual gamut of cellar holes, stone walls and apple trees. Brooke has recast it in his own way: The woods are shadowy and dark, with pools of light, but they evoke tranquility and introspection, rather than menace.

For a painter interested in evoking time what could be more intriguing than a place that is overgrown and forgotten?

“Layering and transience are what interest me. By making a painting I’m compressing time into a little memory space,” Brooke said.

Brooke has a compulsion to make these kinds of paintings, whether he’s drawn by the sublime, by joy or by a sense of his own mortality, he said.

“Whatever it is, is in my brain,” he said.

Of Note

The Main Street Museum plays host Friday to the puppet show extravaganza “Dreaming of a White (House) Christmas,” featuring the talents of Ria Blaas, Susanna Lewis and Geoffrey Gardner. Whither President Trump and family during the holiday, excuse me, Christmas season? Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago or somewhere else? Admission is by donation and the show is not suggested for young children. The show starts at 8 p.m.

On view at the museum is a show of work by Main Street stalwarts. The exhibiting artists are: Elizabeth Billings, Ria Blaas, Matt Bucy, Alisa Dworsky, Rachi Farrow, Luciana Frigerio, Slugo Manischewitz Gagarin, Bunny Harvey, W. David Powell, Jack Rowell, Li Shen and Andrew Sichel.

Gallery 351, at the home of realist painter William B. Hoyt, holds an open house on Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., for “Small Works,” a show of Hoyt’s work. The gallery, also open by appointment, is at 351 Town Farm Hill Road in Hartland.

Ongoing

BigTown Gallery, Rochester, Vt. A retrospective exhibition by painter Nancy Taplin, of Warren, Vt., is on view until March 31, 2018. The gallery will hold a holiday open house from noon to 5 on Saturday, followed by an opening reception for Taplin from 5 to 7.

Center For the Arts, New London. The Juried Regional Exhibition, which features work by 20 New Hampshire artists, runs through Jan. 27.

Chelsea Public Library. “Illustrations” by Joan Waltermire, the Vershire nature artist and former curator of exhibits at the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, runs through December.

Chew & Co. Design, Hanover. The egg tempera and gold leaf paintings of Windsor artist Gary Milek are on view through February.

Converse Free Library, Lyme. “Landscapes: Lyme and Tuscany,” an exhibition of work by Greg Gorman in the Betty Grant Gallery, runs through Dec. 29. Gorman will donate 10 percent of his art sales to the Friends of Lyme Library.

Kilton Public Library, West Lebanon. East Randolph artist Marcia Hammond exhibits oil portraits through Jan. 31.

Library Arts Center, Newport, N.H. The annual holiday exhibition “Gallery of Gifts: Handmade Holiday Boutique” is a good way to take in the range of beautifully crafted, handmade work by area artists and artisans. The exhibition and sale run through Dec. 23.

Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, Hanover. “East Meets West,” a show of brush paintings on silk and etchings by, respectively, Ann and Bruce Peck, is on view through Wednesday.

Scavenger Gallery, White River Junction. “The Art of Place,” a show of encaustic paintings by Helen Shulman, is on display, in addition to work by Margaret Jacobs, Rich Fedorchack and owner Stacy Hopkins.

Tunbridge Public Library. David Fisk’s show, “Challenge and Happiness in Abstract Painting,” is on view through Jan. 19.

Two Rivers Printmaking Studio, White River Junction. Small matted prints and Two Rivers gift certificates are for sale at the annual holiday show, which runs through January.

Royalton Memorial Library, South Royalton. Fairlee painter Robert Rae’s work is included in the exhibition “Wonderland Forever,” a show inspired by Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Through Dec. 31.

White River Gallery, South Royalton. Sculptural assemblages by John F. Parker are on view through Dec. 31.

Zollikofer Gallery, Hotel Coolidge, White River Junction. An exhibition of work by members of the Vermont Pastel Society continues through Dec. 27.

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.