“In 2017 the Maryland Historical Society will present the work of artist David Brewster in a dynamic painting exhibit, featuring new works juxtaposed with the Society’s historical collections. Working with museum staff, Brewster is ‘mining’ the vast resources at MDHS as a source of inspiration for the contemporary topics his paintings will interpret… By featuring a living artist, this exhibition will allow us to tell stories about Maryland that are happening ‘now’ while simultaneously highlighting objects from the past to form new connections for our audience.” ~Maryland Historical Society
Themes will include Baltimore riots/Black Lives Matter, immigration, trans visibility/LGBT rights, fringe culture, global warming, degrading infrastructure, and the U.S.’s deep political divide.
1) How has the landscape of Maryland influenced your work in the past and what role did it play in this commission?
Born and raised in Baltimore county, I credit the beauty and cultural heritage of the Maryland landscape as my earliest and most enduring visual education. My early discoveries of Native American projectile points, unearthed in fields surrounding early structures built by pioneering settlers fed my imagination and passion for history and further explorations. Having built over decades an intimate knowledge of such a distinctive place, I now have a critical lens through which to observe universality in the ways in which humans occupy space all over the world. The most challenging task I faced in interpreting this commissioned suite was inventing visual designs to order the chaos of today’s cluttered and disconnected contemporary landscape and the ragged social complexities that inhabit it.
2) What are challenges this commissioned posed for you as an artist?
Given the social exclusion and marginalization of minorities in Maryland and beyond, it was paramount that the diverse figurative narratives I depicted be more than a treatment of difference, but convey a deep sense of human dignity.
Additionally, given the wide range of topic narratives, it was very important to create overall artistic unity and continuity among the disparate themes. This I strived to achieve by providing an enveloping atmosphere in each piece conditioned by suburban sprawl.
This commissioned suite is the most challenging body of work that I have realized to date. Further, my commitment to authenticity in my vision as an artist was met by the serious responsibility to effectively bring to life the unique human identities as a kind of salvation. It has been a privilege and honor to interpret these themes for Maryland.
3) What did you discover through this commission?
My artistry for this project was positively propelled by the outrageous, sometimes terrible, and always beautiful human essence inherent in the six themes outlined by the MDHS. Since all human experience is predominantly about the inner necessity to love and to survive, I discovered that there is nothing fully foreign to me, nothing that I can not relate to. Subsequently, I came to a place in my own artistic expression where I encountered unsurpassed freedom and joy in interpreting such compelling narratives. They reinvigorated my limited and aging repertory of artistic practices—I used unprecedented formats and techniques to achieve desired effects. This was born out of genuine connection and a fearless charge to create and honor humanity, however insecurely it teeters in our fragmented world.
~David Brewster, 2017