The tangled mess of life

By Christine Clark, December 2011

Rich and evocative, Brad Pasutti’s paintings glow with a mysterious life of their own.

Near the top of a painfully steep hill, with a long, endless view past rooftops and treetops and vague patches of greenery, all the way to the soft blue ocean, sits a formidable old grey mansion, towering over a wildly fecund garden filled with camellias and rhododendrons and soft grass. The house, composed of curved lines and towers and crushed curtains pressed against the window glass would inspire a Tim Burton movie; there’s a darkness there, foreboding and exciting. On a grey November day, with the clouds flying past overhead and the oak trees in sinuous silhouette, it looks like a witch’s lair, or a vampire castle in New Orleans. But no, it’s nothing so sinister. This is the home of a painter, a small and gentle man named Brad Pasutti. 

When asked about his artistic influences, Pasutti immediately mentions Neo Rauch, the leading painter of the New Leipzig School, but as an example of a contemporary artist rather than as a guiding force. On inspection, the comparison is obvious. Rauch, a world- renowned artist born and working in West Germany, creates complex and mysterious paintings incorporating a broad range of seemingly unrelated imagery, historical periods, and non-linear architecture. And like Pasutti, Rauch is reluctant to interpret his work.

Pasutti approaches new paintings with an idea in mind, but without detailed drawings or plans. Once the images begin to build up on the canvas, he works in a manner he describes as “stream of consciousness on a glacial time frame,” meaning that after a certain point the painting itself suggests the next move and that Pasutti responds unhurriedly to the urging of the work. The intention is not to be finished by Friday, but to explore the developing relationships, both on the canvas and between the artist and his painting; when it comes to explaining the meaning behind his work, Pasutti is tight-lipped, but not at all coy. He says, “I don’t want to know too much about relationships sometimes…maybe I’m lazy. I don’t want to know. I want it [the painting] to grow—to have a life of its own. I want to discover things. It’s what keeps me interested.”

After graduating from the University of Victoria with a BFA in 1983 (he also completed a three-year diploma program, with honours in sculpture, at the Kootenay School of Art in 1979), Pasutti earned early success showing a series of incredibly rich and detailed pastel paintings at the former Fran Willis Gallery. One of these older works, titled “Las Mariposas del Jardin,” shows a street scene so full of life and motion and so aglow with the varnished ambience of an Old Master painting that it’s mesmerizing. The technique alone required to turn paper and soft, chalky pastel into a dark, gleaming, lively night scene is remarkable. But many an artist is capable of perfecting technique. There’s something more here; a resistance to the ordinary, to merely making pictures, to stasis. This picture moves, it confuses (your eyes jump helplessly/eagerly back and forth trying to see everything), but still it is exactly what it is: a street scene. 

It wasn’t long after his debut here in Victoria that Pasutti found representation with respected art dealers Gunter Heinrich and Anthony Sam of Winchester Galleries. He has shown with them, a solo exhibition every two years, since 1995. He is currently preparing for an upcoming show in April 2012. 

His new works, oil on canvas, are somewhat similar to the pastel pieces in that every inch of the surface is literally covered in detail; they are possibly even more detailed, with extreme close-ups and great long distances, but the new work is much less concerned with narrative. Many of the paintings feature disorienting architectural structures; stairways that lead nowhere, or walls and doors and windows presented in unusual perspective. 

In a 2010 painting titled “Auto de fe” (a Spanish phrase originally meaning “act of faith,” which later, during the Spanish Inquisition, came to mean “the act of burning at the stake”), the background is filled with a series of staircases and corridors from various eras, the stone corridor in the far right looks Medieval, while the staircase up in the far left corner can probably be dated from the turn of the last century. 

In the foreground, leaning towards the left of the picture is an enormous pile of objects. Junk is too indelicate a word, but these things are vague, indistinct, and without obvious definition. It’s difficult to determine what they might once have been useful as, back in a time before they took their place in the pile, just as all objects once discarded become temporarily and individually meaningless, especially perhaps when in such majestic quantity. Of course, remnants of a culture are an archeologist’s dream, helping the people of the future to understand the people of the past. The Native peoples on the Coast left middens, the Egyptians left mummies, and the Neanderthals left stone tools. What will our story tell? Is that what Pasutti is exploring?

Early in our interview, as we sat chatting in the living room that Pasutti shares with his long-time partner, Efren Quiroz of Exhibit V fame, he told me that as a kid growing up in Terrace one year, his home and all the valued objects within were utterly destroyed when the Skeena River flooded. One disaster precipitated another: his parents divorced soon after the flood. It’s not hard to imagine, looking into Pasutti’s paintings, another pile of things, strewn through the mud, grey and wet. It’s not hard to imagine a small boy standing still and staring into that tangled mess of a life, once normal and everyday, lost forever. 


See for more examples of Brad Pasutti’s work. For information on his upcoming show in April 2012, contact Winchester Galleries.

Christine Clark writes about art and artists in Victoria and beyond.