Meditations on Solitude: Exploring Rob Browning’s work at Warm Springs Gallery

"Stilts and Three Trees," a painting by Rob Browning. Image courtesy of Warm Springs Gallery. “Stilts and Three Trees,” a painting by Rob Browning. Image courtesy of Warm Springs Gallery.

For the month of July, five paintings by Rob Browning will be on display at the Warm Springs Gallery alongside other works by Andras Bality and Liz Price . Browning’s paintings are figurative, illustrative works, magnetic from a distance. They appear through the gallery’s window like surreal images from a fantastical children’s book.

His works are lonely and contemplative; they depict open rural settings, leisurely paced with blue skies, distant sculptural clouds and a few young figures punctuating the first and last canvases of the series. His figures are alone and appear to be hiding or avoiding the activities presumably happening elsewhere. “Sandwich” is a beautifully composed painting which exemplifies the entire show. A single figure sits hidden in a small oasis carved in a field of wheat. He sits alone holding a sandwich, behind him is a curve of a road which cuts through a field of grain. The road is empty, but we get the sense of distant car noise passing by unseen. Browning’s paintings all effectively illustrate this intentional isolation and singular meditative experience of reality. The paintings reminisce about childhood moments when we built wild forts to conceal our existence from the world.

Each image is thoughtfully composed and well executed, with a slight exception for “Window and Blue Curtains” which, compared with the series, has a few lighting and compositional issues.

His works are crisp and clean, although they seem to be constructed for reproduction. This is to say, while they are highly enjoyable images which appear pristine when photographed, a few technical and formal issues are unavoidable when the paintings are seen in person. His straight architectural lines are formally beautiful, but they leave behind a raised ridge where his masking material lay on the surface. This effect is slightly jarring to come across when immersed in the illustrative moments of the paintings. His edges, especially in his clouds, often threaten to become atmospheric, but never quite reach the appropriate resolution. This isn’t to say that there are not hidden moments of painterly pleasure to be discovered. For example, the sky in “Sandwich” is fantastically activated by short strokes of nearly invisible green paint which float lazily in the thermal currents. It is only to say that Browning has valued swiftness and effectiveness of his images over creating objects which are interesting  from the standpoint of the craft of painting.

Browning’s show is definitely worth a look. The pieces effectively capture quiet contemplative experiences in a stylized and methodical way, and the show is perfectly timed to be enjoyed during the nostalgia filled summer season.

“The Pleasures of Summer” is a group show featuring work by Andras Bality, Rob Browning and Liz Price at the Warm Springs Gallery. The opening reception will be from 6 – 8pm on July 5 and the exhibit will remain on display though July 30, 2013.

-Aaron Miller and Rose Guterbock