Bushwick, in general, conjures images of bulky warehouses and derelict factories, cyclone fences and concrete walls. Deborah Brown’s paintings of the neighborhood enliven such scenery with spiraling foliage and skies the color of Easter eggs. Brown works by making plein-air drawings around Bushwick and posting the pictures on her studio walls. She then extracts details from the drawings—utility lines, razor wire, the tops of factories—and places them in her paintings. These scenes could potentially be of any industrial district in any American town, but they are distinctively Bushwick.
Oftentimes, subtly painted objects make themselves visible only after two or three viewings. “Birds and Bags” seems a straightforward enough view, from the angle of a passerby peering skyward, of a tree shedding its summer leaves. Upon closer inspection, these “leaves” turn out to be little birds intermingling with plastic bags caught in the branches. Through her poetic brushwork and delicious color palette, Brown transforms forlorn vistas into places of beauty.
16 Wilson Avenue, Bushwick, through 5/16
I killed a spider the other day and thought of Julian Montague. His project at Black & White uses iconic banners—simple, full-frontal graphics of individual animal heads—to label the locations of critters in manmade environs. These insects, arachnids, rodents, and birds are “secondary occupants,” ready to take over buildings as humans move out. A white string connects each identifying banner to the location where the artist had spotted or captured a specimen. Photographs show the banners in the real world, hanging in living rooms, basements, campgrounds, and even an abandoned Volvo. On a shelf in the gallery, dead bugs are suspended in glass vials next to mammal bones and a pigeon corpse laid out as if at a funeral parlor. I checked the bird to see if it had miniature quarters over its eyes, but Montague wouldn’t pull such a cheeky stunt. He assumes the role of a strict observer and leaves any editorializing to the viewer.
What interests Montague is how these pests try to turn forgotten buildings into outdoor spaces. (An obvious example would be termites chewing lumber into sawdust.) He even placed a rusted shed in the gallery’s courtyard, with rows of banners revealing the array of species (mostly spiders) that have dwelled therein. The project exposes our attempts to create pristine, pest-free environments as futile. Creatures will always linger in the corner of the ceiling, behind the closet door, under the stove, or in the drain, waiting for us to end our temporary residency.
Black & White Project Space
483 Driggs Avenue, Williamsburg, through 5/28