Ben Brode’s seascapes convey a waterman’s sensibility. With their careful attention to the interactions of light and water, they read like the observations of a fisherman looking out to sea to predict the next day’s weather. Brode captures in paint that fleeting moment at sunset when the sky and sea cannot be ignored as they take over the horizon with a dynamic performance in color. High-gloss varnish and smooth surface textures reflect a surfer’s aesthetic, giving his oil paintings the bright gloss of a surfboard. In “Low Tide,” “Evening Color,” and “Lavender Sea,” Brode addresses the paradox of the ocean sunset-that place where fire and water meet, light and color are mirrored, and time is momentarily suspended.
Other paintings break away from the traditional California landscape painting mode. In these works, Brode employs a dynamic approach to color and composition, creating a compelling new mode of expression. This approach is apparent in “Orange Afternoon,” with its limited orange-red-violet color palette and blurred silhouette of trees above the water. In the equally abstract “Shore Road (Maine),” vibrant tones dance against a primarily green background. These more experimental landscapes work because of the artist’s confident skill with color and his fundamental understanding of the elements of scenic painting.
When Brode strays too far from the water, however, his paintings fall slightly flat. “Midday,” while formally successful, lacks the dynamism of some of his other works. There is balance here, in terms of color and composition, but the impact is missing. Nevertheless, the paintings in this exhibit that fall outside the traditional landscape format show an artist who is actively engaged in the process of seeing and willing to take risks. Although not all the works in Poetry in Paint pack the same visual punch, the exhibition is well worth a visit, not least because of its philanthropic purpose. Santa Barbara Art Studios Gallery and Brode are donating part of the proceeds from every piece sold to the Shape of Voice youth newspaper, offering patrons a chance to support a talented artist and a worthy cause with a single swipe of the credit card.