John Brandi: The Fire Within
November 4-30, 2018
Opening Reception with the artist: Saturday, November 10th, 4-6pm
John Brandi was set firmly on the creative path during boyhood. His parents, neither of whom were artists, encouraged him to observe the natural world up close and “report.” His father worked for the Los Angeles Examiner, his mother kept house. Both parents were transplants to Southern California from the Midwest. Eager to explore the rich diversity of California’s mountains, deserts and coast, they set out on automobile forays, soon to be shared with their firstborn son.
“Before I even got to the first grade my mother had taught me the basics of reading and writing. She recited verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, and showed me illustrations by N.C. Wyeth as she read from Treasure Island. As a youngster I also tagged along with my father on his outings into the Santa Monica Mountains. His hobby was photography, and he took it very seriously, using a large-format press camera and a handheld light meter. I was totally at home among the sun-beaten chaparral, the bright orange poppies, the wild fennel and eucalyptus. The more time he took setting up his wooden tripod, the more time I had to linger and enjoy the dragonflies, wildflowers and horned lizards.
“Most vivid in my memory, though, were early ventures into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. My parents would rent a rustic cabin, we would take day hikes, cook our own meals, attend campfire talks in the evening. Stand-out experiences were scrambling up to Yosemite Falls, hiking the granite dome of Moro Rock, and tramping the meadows to a hermit’s cabin hewn out of a fallen redwood.
“Back home, my father would ask me to draw something I remembered from the trip. He supplied me with squares of newsprint from the Examiner pressroom and gave me a recycled Whitman’s Sampler candy box filled with pencils. When I finished a drawing my mother would ask me to write a line to go with it—how I felt, say, when I saw my first bear or hugged the soft bark of a giant sequoia. When my drawings piled up they would gather them, add a cover page, ask me to think of a title, then staple everything together. This was my first experience in making a book. Decades later, here I am, still doing what I did as a boy: traveling, observing, reporting on what I see, how I feel—at home or beyond the boundaries—through paint, poetry, and books.”
John Brandi arrived in New Mexico in 1971, shortly after two and a half years in the Andes as a Peace Corps Volunteer. He has been a resident ever since, often journeying with his wife, Renée Gregorio, to such places as Cuba, India, Sicily, Japan, and Crete. Life at home and travels abroad inform his paintings. “I’m especially drawn to the converging topography of desert and mountain, ocean and volcano, edgy port cities and ragged outback.” His works on paper utilize earth and plant pigments, watercolor, ink, colored pencil, gouache, collaged paper and found objects.
“As an artist you often get asked what kind of art you do. That’s hard to answer. Most people don’t know the technical terminology, or categories of styles, and they aren’t familiar with painters who were also poets, like Marsden Hartley, or storytellers like Henry Miller who were also painters. Often I just stumble and say: "My paintings are usually of places I’ve walked, a sort of Dionysian color fest of mountains, deserts, rivers, air turbulences. Or of little villages off the map, in my mind. Musical places.”
Brandi’s paintings and graphic art have been exhibited at the New Mexico History Museum; the Roswell Museum of Art; the former Loka Cafe and Gallery, Taos; the Laurel Seth Gallery and Randall Davey Audubon Center, Santa Fe; the San Francisco Public Library, and the North Columbia Cultural Center, Nevada City, California. As a poet he has published three dozen books since the 1960s, including poems, prose, modern American haiku, and haibun. His translations of Masaoka Shiki’s poems, A House By Itself (with Noriko Kawasaki Martinez) received The Touchstone Distinguished Book Award, 2017. In the same year, The Press at The Palace of the Governors issued Into the Dream Maze, a limited edition of Brandi’s New Mexico poems and hand-colored illustrations.
Pictured, Earth, the Summer Sky, and Cypress (20 x 26") by John Brandi