Donald Bracken, whose lifelong career as an artist has taken him from San Francisco and UC Berkeley to New York City – where he was an artist-in- residence through the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council in the World Trade Center – has put down roots, literally, in the Housatonic River Valley, where today he finds fertile inspiration amidst its bucolic pastoral landscapes.
Like the world he paints, Bracken’s work has always been in a constant state of evolution, taking a groundbreaking leap from traditionally executed landscape portraits in 2007 when he began to incorporate dirt from the region into his paintings of deserted New England farms. Since then, he says, he has been very interested in formalizing natural materials he finds around him “by mixing them with acrylics in paintings and sculptures that draw inspiration from anthropomorphic forms and motifs, random patterns and the gestural calligraphy found in nature.”
Bracken explains, “The use of these materials has yielded a process of discovery that has led me to synthesize natural motifs in different ways due to qualities inherent in the materials used, but in a common direction, to express the parallel realities of man and nature, which often exist without human awareness.”
His works, including contemporary paintings and sculpture, showcase Bracken’s talent for developing three-dimensional visual vignettes that are informed by nature and speak volumes about the processes and elements harbored within. His use of vines in free-form sculptures represents “calligraphic drawings in space”; his dynamic jacaranda seedpod hanging sculptures, lip-like in image, suggest a continual chase in motion; and his expansive clay paintings, which allude to architectural forms, evoke the inherent rhythm of the soil, giving life and movement to his signature art style. Many are characterized by a dried cracked surface, perfectly capturing the changing tides of the Earth itself. Others incorporate natural materials and mediums that create abstract interpretations of realistic botanical motifs, animal-made structures, or the shimmer of fireflies brilliant against a night sky.
“And each,” adds Bracken, whose gifted sensibilities as an artist are enhanced by his intuitive talents and prowess as a jazz guitarist, “pays equal tribute to the ever-changing panoply of life in a visceral, often fun, magical way.”
Donald Bracken, a nationally known award-winning artist, is a native San Franciscan and UC Berkeley graduate who has lived in West Cornwall, Connecticut, for 34 years. Painting and drawing have always been his primary creative focus. One of his greatest visual influences has been the windows of the World Trade Center, where he had an artist in residency fellowship in 1997; and he has used that motif as a repeated shape or format idea in many of his works since. In 2007, a series of paintings of deserted farms in the Connecticut River valley became not just about the earth but of the earth when he began to paint the landscapes using soil from the farms he was painting. The earth-polymer material he has developed has a dynamic, visceral, and visual quality that, as it dries and cracks, allows the processes of nature a role in the fluid, changing canvases they form together. Much of his focus has continued to shift toward celebrating earth materials, among them leaves, vines, and beaver sticks, as voices unto themselves.
As he has become ever more inspired by alternative materials and different ways of looking at nature, form, and structure, his means of expression, even when sculptural, are still essentially drawing and painting. Sculptural elements are a way to make 3-D paintings that he can fully inhabit. His use of vines as a material and a medium began as an element in the earth paintings and has evolved into its own approach, opening up the process of creating works that resemble calligraphy in space.