“Hypothetical Marriage of Monsieur Marcel Duchamp and Miss Helen Keller,” 1982, by Frank Bramblett (Courtesy of the artist). (Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer)

“Hypothetical Marriage of Monsieur Marcel Duchamp and Miss Helen Keller,” 1982, by Frank Bramblett (Courtesy of the artist). (Photograph by Rick Echelmeyer)

by William Valerio

Woodmere’s current exhibition, “Frank Bramblett: No Intention,” offers a survey of the work of an artist who has been part of the international conversations in the arts since the 1960s and has been represented by prestigious commercial galleries of global reach.

Bramblett, however, lives locally and his impact has been profound in Philadelphia. A dedicated teacher and leading voice in the art department at Tyler School of Art for more than four decades, Bramblett is an artist who inspires many of the younger artists of our city.

At Woodmere, where our mission is to tell the stories of the artists of Philadelphia, it seemed imperative that we explore the work of an artist who has made a difference in the broad cultural vitality of our community.

It may be that Bramblett has been such a strong teacher because his definition of art is fundamentally inclusive. He will be the first to say that the commercial potential of a work of art is meaningless. For him, a creation only deserves to be called “art” if it gives something of real meaning to the beholder.

Does it move you in an emotional way? Does it make you think differently about the complexities of the world? Does it spark your creative energies? Does it contribute to making the world a better place? Only then does it deserve to be considered art.

Art comes from someplace deep inside the artist, and, at the same time, you can make art whether you apply your creativity to painting and sculpture (objects we normally think of as art), or to gardening, cooking, building, performing, or caring for others. This is an empowering message to students across the spectrum.

We chose the title, “No Intention,” to suggest Bramblett’s process. He never sets out to make a work of art that will have an intended appearance; instead he starts with an idea and determines a way to make an object in order to explore that idea.

As much as Bramblett holds a generous, open view of the nature of art, his paintings, drawings, and sculptures are equally generous to the viewer. Unlike many contemporary artists of a conceptual bent, Bramblett does not reject the idea that art should be beautiful, even decorative. His surfaces are sensuous, painterly, rich, and sometimes consumed with elaborate patterns. Forms are elegant and content can be quirky, even humorous in a provocative way.

One of the largest paintings in the exhibition, “Endurance,” is Bramblett’s juxtaposition of the patterns of his grandmother’s wrinkled face with the pattern of his thumbprint. Continuous, unbroken lines fill entire canvases with flat, doodle-like spiraling shapes within which are occasional words that, when strung together, tell stories. What I love most in Bramblett’s work is that the forms grab me immediately and then draw me into a deep web of thought.

If you are a fan of contemporary art, you will surely enjoy this exhibition. If you sometimes feel that contemporary art is obtuse or perplexing, I would encourage that this exhibition is as accessible as it is rewarding. Please also join us at Woodmere on Saturday, April 25 at 3 p.m. for a conversation with two of Bramblett’s distinguished colleagues at Tyler University, the painter, Dona Nelson, and the art historian Gerald Silk, Ph.D. After the program you will be able to meet the artist and speakers at a reception, glass of wine in hand. I hope to see you.

William Valerio, Ph. D., is The Patricia Van Burgh Allison Director and CEO at Woodmere Art Museum, 9201 Germantown Ave, in Chestnut Hill.

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