Dan Kany is a well respected art historian and writer for the Portland Press Herald and we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to weigh in on R. Brown Lethem and his work. Here is what he graciously shared with us...
Lethem is a painter who works from his sensibilities and deep down he is driven by morality and spirituality. He is a Quaker and the basic idea behind Quakerism is that the divine arrives through people's voices. This is not to say that Quakers "channel" God in that sense, but it does imply that the personal, the moral and the spiritual arrive through the conscience of the individual. This is ideal for a painter: bringing these sensibilities together is no easy task, particularly when the religion to which that person subscribes has its own set of institutionally-articulated dogmas. This is one of the reasons why Lethem can dig deep in the dark: What is a moral light worth, after all, if it can't lead you to the areas of discomfort for the self and others?
It also hints at how Lethem can empathize with the spiritual or secular morality of others: Some of his newer works have delved into the Nature spirituality of American Indians. This shouldn't be surprising since the personal aspects morality and spirituality come together in non-dogmatic, non-institutionalized terms. What does this mean for Lethem's art and the viewer? It actually makes it much more direct and far less mediated by symbols and the institutions of others; Lethem's content must first strike him as legitimate and authentic. From there, the viewer can have confidence of an encounter with the sensibilities of the artist rather than a scripted theater of someone else's ideology that must be decoded and unpacked. Sensing Lethem's directness is the key; but it's not hard to find on your own. There is no sense of self-righteous preaching within what feels a deeply personal psychological narrative. His brush is bold. His colors are intense. His imagery ripples with the intensity of life. The energy of his painting is enough to deliver him as an artist. From there, Lethem's content opens up on its own.
As always, we are so grateful for Mr. Kany's insight. I am also happy to share that Dan just wrote a wonderful review of R. Brown Lethem's show for the Portland Press Herald. You can find it here.
Be sure to visit the gallery this week to see the Process exhibit before it closes over the weekend!