For whatever reason—the instantly accessible archive of our social and cultural histories thanks to social media and the internet? The opiatic-nostalgia pushed by Jovian disseminators like BuzzFeed’s Rewind vertical? The understandable desire to put the mind anywhere outside of Trump’s America?—works revolving around exploring the fungible landscape of memory have become de rigueur since last summer, and recent School of the Art Institute of Chicago grad Kristian Bruce is the latest to take us back. “At a Place Where the Trees Were Still All Green,” Bruce’s solo show at Stuart & Co. Gallery, mines the unformed horrors and unchecked pleasures of childhood. Bright primary colors, dynamic compositions and the dominant positions of toy horses, faux race cars and exotic felines over the presence of human beings place the exhibition along the razor-edge of juvenile thought, where whatever comes screaming through to the forefront may do so with no regard to how it actually went down when it was lived.
The figures populating Bruce’s past are abstractions; ciphers for himself, the viewer, whomever. They exist as jaundiced faces—like summer-camp soap carvings left in the sun—and flat, creamy planes or, most often, as simple, vibrant lines, exsanguinated silhouettes, emanating in jejune tones from the forest or the side of the frame, squiggling like tube worms from between shoulder blades, practically detached as a soft gray tracing, visage-cum-skyline. No matter their form, they are the weakest aspect of the composition, an attempt at making everything feel a shade closer to nothing. Animals fare better, including a pair of gently warped flamingoes that dominate the wall, but the flora truly reigns. At times resembling whimsical camouflage, campy wallpaper or minimalist design, Bruce’s plant life provides the vibrant setting of an illustrated children’s book or a dream. Perhaps the predominance of nature is a callback to Bruce’s roots in Bozeman, Montana. In the lambent chaos of a campfire or the dabbled oddity of an impenetrable copse, Bruce’s linear appendages appear at their most captivating, equal parts haint and hilarity. Against these woods perspective, size and detail all become approximations, just as they do in memory, excised pieces of the past laid out on a verdant rug. (B. David Zarley)
Kristian Bruce’s “At a Place Where the Trees Were Still All Green” shows through May 27 at Stuart & Co. Gallery, 2250 West Ohio.