06 Kathryn Brackett Luchs


Born Detroit, 1950 / BFA, MFA, University of Michigan / Lives in Lewiston, Michigan

Kathryn Brackett Luchs has been making big, odd-couple “hybrids” (her preferred term) since the late eighties, often pairing plywood and glassine, canvas and photographs, hard and soft, sturdy and fragile as her signature practice. As such, her work challenges the conventions of modest scale, tautness, framing, and single sheets of paper associated with the print medium (which she in fact teaches at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design). Her combinations have instead been conspicuously expansive and enveloping, imposingly large, and relentlessly experimental in execution and appearance. In her studio multiple compositions are usually underway simultaneously.

That Brackett Luchs has lived in semirural environs post-Detroit (Holly, Ann Arbor, South Lyon, Lewiston) accounts in part for the flora and fauna that predominate in her imagery since the eighties: moths, wings, birds, bark, nests. Even in her recent abstract compositions of the last several years, words such as chrysalis, cocoon, birdy, and fossil (along with allegory, Buddha, and hybrid) persist in her titles.

Notable too is her commitment to a compositional format that joins at the hip a matrix (or “the parent block,” per the artist) and an abutting image derived from it (the “offspring”)—or lately, a cluster of “details” appropriated from the matrix. This elemental structure is apparent in both Feeder of 1997 and Birdy of 2013: in the former, the gouged, carved, and inked plywood panel on the left yields the pale, rosy, evanescent woodcut on layers of glassine on the right; in the latter, the kinetic whorls of charcoal on gessoed canvas beget the flanking grids of photographs right and left, reminiscent of a triptych with central image and paired wings.

In both series, early and recent, as well as in transitional examples, such as Jazzpur’s Wing (2011–12), Brackett Luchs’s basic configuration is maintained as her profound intentions are broadened and deepened. Almost from the outset, the core concepts of matrix as pivotal element, coupled with the embrace of part and whole, persist as the overriding thematic thrust of her art. Just as neither one technique nor pro- cess is sufficient to conjure up a totality—hence Brackett Luchs’s mixed-media process in China Bird (2003) and Fossil & 9 Films (2013)—neither a singular print on glassine or drawing on canvas, nor variations of images or clusters of photographs on their own, can adequately convey a comprehensive vision. Instead, burrowing in, building incrementally, adding facets, layers, and nuances via diverse graphic techniques, reveals more than a single scan or first impression. Both multiplicity and the application of Duchampian “brain fact” (i.e., fusing it all together in the mind’s eye) breed clarity and understanding.

In her latest images, such as Birdy (the largest so far at seven by twelve feet), Allegory, and Fossil & 9 Films (all 2013), Brackett Luchs does just that. Devoid of color and divested of imagery, they embody a rarefied realm, cool and purified but fraught with waves of energy. Whether structured as diptych, triptych, or polyptych, a surrender to the sweeping, caroming curves, spirals, and coils of charcoal on canvas is irresistible. The eye darts back and forth across a swarm of enlarged photographic details spawned by the dance on the canvas, disposed symmetrically or asymmetrically, reveling, as the artist avers, in perpetual “states of changing or becoming.”

Dennis Alan Nawrocki, October 2014

Copyright Essay’d 2014