Brooks Cashbaugh’s Consideration of Light

Images courtesy of the artist

Bright Burn Out - Brooks Cashbaugh

Eve Drewelowe Gallery, Iowa City, IA

November, 2021

by Lachlan Hinwood

January 29, 2022

Presenting a heartfelt body of new work, Brooks Cashbaugh’s exhibition “Bright Burn Out” is at once an ode to the expressiveness of figurative painting and the architectural potential of sculptural installation.

It is clear that Cashbaugh is experimental in his modes of working. The show consists of 12 small paintings on wood panels and a plywood installation titled Warm Headache Rhythms. The distinct forms of the work visually connect to the gallery's architecture, and attention is paid to light and space throughout the exhibition.

Warm Headache Rhythms (Installation), 14” x 228”. Eve Drewelowe Gallery, Iowa CIty. 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.

Cashbaugh paints his subjects like a candid photographer. Figures are shown in a variety of domestic scenes; caught mid-sentence, on a coffee break, and kissing on the couch. Looking at Cashbaugh’s thoughtfully composed paintings of his friends, coworkers, and family members, I am left with a lingering feeling that is both comforting and unsettling. The paintings call us to imagine the lives of Cashbaugh’s friends from the perspective of a stranger. He gives us personal and intimate snapshots, without ever teetering beyond the cusp of voyeurism. In here, every morning, a small painting on panel, a ghost-like figure holds a cup of coffee while wearily resting a hand on the back of their neck. The image is contemplative, and a Morandi-esque palette flattens the figure, who begins to merge with the painting's ground.

here, every morning, Oil on Birch Panel, 14” x 11”. 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.

One of the most striking elements of Bright Burn Out is the consideration of light Cashbaugh gives to his figurative paintings, which are rendered sensitively with gentle touches of oil. His brushstrokes are energized but controlled, sitting on the surface of birch panels which have been treated with light washes of pinks, yellows, and off white gradients. The resulting images have a uniquely digital quality to them, as if their brightness setting have been adjusted in photoshop until the subjects begin to lose their identifiability to light. Figures emerge from this light, and feel composed of it.

something to grasp, Oil on Birch Panel, 14” x 11”. 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.

Hanging alone, Stress Position occupies the gallery’s North wall, isolated from the other work in the exhibition. The painting is composed of marks loosely defining a figure placing their head in their hands. Who is this person? What is worrying them? A clear narrative is less important than the feeling imparted by the subject. Cashbaugh's ambiguous use of light matches the uncertainty in this figure's gesture, never quite letting a viewer know what is happening in the scene. Most of all, Stress Position is beautiful in its restrained use of mark making.

Stress Position, Oil on Birch Panel, 9.75" x 11.75". 2021. Image courtesy of the artist.

Casbaugh’s paintings are intimate in both their scale and content. Like a weary smile given by a barista taking an order, the exhibition’s title “Bright Burn Out” references the mental fatigue of the working class, a feeling that is heartbreaking in its familiarity. I struggle to think of another artist who can show this kind of heartbreak with such little effort. As is said in the writing adage “show don’t tell”, Cashbaugh’s paintings invoke feelings that are tender and melancholic without telling an exact reason why.