Works by John Brandi featured at Magpie

By Tamra Testerman
Posted 11/7/18

Artist, John Brandi said, "My paintings are usually of places I've walked. A kind of Dionysian color splash of mountains, deserts, craggy high-altitude topography, air turbulences, and so on."

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Works by John Brandi featured at Magpie


Georgia Gersh, owner of Magpie Gallery, said an upcoming exhibit at her venue will differ because the featured artist, John Brandi, is not a Taos resident. "He's all the way in El Rito (south), but a dear friend and, like many of my artists this season, talented in many mediums. I am very excited to have his work at Magpie."

An opening reception for the John Brandi exhibit, titled "The Fire Within," is planned Saturday (Nov. 10), 4-6 p.m., at Magpie, 1405 Paseo del Pueblo Norte at the Overland Compound in El Prado.

We spoke with Brandi and asked him about his art, his process and what makes it all tick.

Tempo: What mediums do you work with?

John Brandi: Easel paintings are acrylics on canvas. Majority of mixed media on paper comprise watercolor, inks, gouache, natural earth pigments, vegetable dyes, graphite, collage, postage stamps, gold and silver foil, and so on.

Tempo: How would you describe your subject? What themes seem to occur or reoccur in your work?

Brandi: My paintings are usually of places I've walked. A kind of Dionysian color splash of mountains, deserts, craggy high-altitude topography, air turbulences, and so on. Many derive from on-the-spot thumbnails using graphite smeared with the sweat of my forehead or the earth I stand on. Another half of my work finds a source in places off the map, in my mind. Musical places. Mythical, personal villages or continents.

Tempo: What do you read, listen to or look at to fuel your work and find inspiration?

Brandi: Jazz, blues, reggae, raw recordings from the Andes, Java, Ohkay Owingeh, Ladakh, Mali. Science, travel writing, mysteries, a good cookbook or mountaineer book, an old movie. Or just silence.

Tempo: Do you intend your work to challenge the viewer?

Brandi: When painting or writing, I completely toss out the notion of audience, viewer, reader. I don't want them in the room. I don't want their expectations, head scratching or approval. I don't want to know who they are.

Tempo: Do you think the intellectualizing of visual art by the artist or viewer lessens its power and emotional impact?

Brandi: The painting is the explanation. And it explains itself differently in each and everyone's head.

Same with the poem. It laughs, cries, wrangles with you, settles into your skin, deconstructs itself if it wants, gets up on its haunches and sits on your head, whatever. Critics exist for critics. I sometimes enjoy behind-the-scene shop talk with another painter or writer, but when it comes to exhibiting a painting or reading a poem, the work itself is the engine, the force, the mystery.

You don't try to persuade it into the human realm with intellectual strings. You don't blather on about a poem before you read it, or explain your paintings at an opening. You need to disappear. Just as you did when the painting or poem's energy felt its way through you to become realty.

Tempo: Is there something you are working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?

Brandi: Well, I've been hard at work on both painting and writing -- an exhibit in Taos, a new collection of poems about to be published. So, I want to stretch my legs for a while, maybe travel offbeat place where green cliffs meet a warm sea and swim. Or mountain gaze. And wear myself out walking. Then I want to return and write for a while. Tell the story -- for my grandkids -- of what led me to New Mexico, this remoteness, these mountains and mesas, what stepping stones along the way inspired me. What keeps me going here, and in the world. Where's the juice?

Tempo: What three things never fail to bring you pleasure?

Brandi: Snow banners off high peaks, my wife's Sicilian pasta, absolute laughter among family and friends.

Tempo: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?

Brandi: Life in El Rito, the remoteness, the stillness, is not for everyone, but it is wonderful -- and essential -- for my wife (Renee Gregorio) and me. She is a poet; she has her studio at one end of the house downstairs; I'm upstairs at the other end. We can go a whole day without bumping into each other except maybe in the garden, picking greens, taking a break. I've always loved Northern New Mexico for its out-of-the-loop position in America. The land is eccentric, the people too. Driving over to Taos, hardly a car on the road. Just sky, earth, the far off icy teeth of Blanca Peak, the mysterious hump of Taos Mountain. I started out in absolute stillness, in a remote canyon in Mora County in the 1970s. For the past 20 years, the Chama watershed has been home. El Rito is a village, but even so, plenty of quiet reigns.

Tempo: What advice has influenced you?

Brandi: First thing that comes to mind: Once my father took me to a street-art show at Laguna Beach. I was 8 or 9 years old. All the paintings seemed to be of the same sunlit-from-behind wave. But he stood me before one of those paintings and said, "If you really look close at water, you can use paint to make it real. All you need is a good eye and the right materials -- and don't get distracted. You have to be determined."

The exhibit will be on view through the month of November. For more, call Magpie at (781) 248-0166 or visit


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