An Abstract Feeling: Brooke Pickett at The Front

Taylor Murrow visits Brooke Pickett’s current exhibition at The Front and wonders how to find solace in abstraction during turbulent times.

Brooke Pickett, Good Grief, 2016. Oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist.

“Good grief”: a phrase of exasperation. (Good grief. How could something like this happen?) Two words that, after a very trying, challenging 2016, seem to resonate more than ever. Together they are an expression of disbelief or exhaustion or maybe even a simple description. (Good grief. Can grief ever be good?)

“Good Grief” is also the title of Brooke Pickett’s newest body of paintings, currently on view at The Front: four bold, large-scale works that reveal more the longer the viewer spends with them. Colors and forms are fractured and abstracted, flattened onto a single plane with thick, textured brushstrokes, recalling the work of the Abstract Expressionists. On a quiet visit to the gallery, Pickett’s seven-foot-tall canvases towered over the space in a punchy palette of coral and cobalt, watermelon and kelly green.

In Once More, With Feeling, 2016, two dark ovals hover like omniscient eyes at the top of the canvas above strokes of pastoral greens and blues. After a longer look, they take on a figurative quality and become the heads of two bodies engaged in a dance or dramatic performance. Brushwork becomes limbs entwined. (Good grief. Once more, with feeling.) I kept returning to this work. Sometimes, when we experience shattering loss or defeat, we reach a level of fatigue that dictates how we must grieve, how we can respond and express ourselves. (Good grief. Let’s get it right this time.) And the performance continues.

It’s hard not to imagine the starting point or inspiration for some of Pickett’s paintings. The title work has bold blues in a shape that recalls an empty swimming pool. It should be calming, but the still waters end up feeling a little uneasy and lonely. (Good grief. Where is everyone?) Many of Pickett’s paintings do begin with real-world objects; however, they are more than a mystery in abstraction, waiting to be decoded. Dwarfed by their size, I found myself looking inward for answers and asking why we choose to experience art in times of stress or uncertainty. What makes grief good? As we experience it, it feels like the answer to that is “nothing.” (Good grief. Who can really know?)

Editor's Note

Brooke Pickett’s “Good Grief” is on view through January 8, 2017, at The Front (4100 St. Claude Avenue) in New Orleans.