What to Do With Our Anger?

Gandy Brodie (1924–1975) is one of the independent figures of the 1960s with whom the art world has not yet come to terms. He was a self-taught artist who grew up in New York’s Lower East Side, which puts him in a small category; almost no first- or second-generation Abstract Expressionists were born in the neighborhood, though many had studios there. Never one to be swayed by fashion, the art historian Meyer Shapiro championed Brodie and another outlier of the time, Forrest Bess. And while Bess has gradually entered the canon, Brodie remains on the cusp, neither quite in or out — a cult figure whose approach to painting and subject matter remains at odds with Pop Art, Minimalism, Color Field painting, and painterly realism, the celebrated styles of the 1960s, and today. His slow process often involved building up his canvases into uneven surfaces of smooth paint. He seemed to want to memorialize different sides of his hard-scrabble existence without sentimentalizing them.

Brodie’s subject matter ranged from tenement walls to flowers and birds’ nests, from testaments of endurance to expressions of fragility and vulnerability. His paintings of anemones could be sweet but they never tipped into the saccharine.

Featured Image: Gandy Brodie, “A Matter of Life and Death” (n.d.), oil on canvas, 23 3/4 x 20 inches

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