Rebecca Brewer – Eidetic Cloud, JANUARY 27–MARCH 11, 2023

Rebecca Brewer
Eidetic Cloud
January 27–March 11, 2023

Catriona Jeffries

Eidetic Cloud, a new series of paintings and felted textiles, expands Rebecca Brewer’s unique practice, one attentive to the overlooked and under considered in the human and natural worlds. Using the specificities of material and the mechanisms of our perception, the artist creates an expressionistic, dynamic tension between representation and abstraction that tests our assumptions of the work’s process and its subjects.

This latest body of work continues an ongoing engagement with the esoteric art historical subgenre of sottobosco—Italian for “undergrowth” or “forest floor.” This style of Dutch still life emerged in 1650s Italy and utilized traditional Baroque painting techniques and still life composition, depicting subjects previously considered low, inferior, or even taboo. Strange, dark, and wild flora and fauna such as frogs, insects, thorns, newts, fungus, and snails were brought to eye level, revealing a previously unrepresented perspective. This movement from domestic tableaux to the life of the disregarded ground was closely tied to scientific, technological, and social developments of the 17th-century Dutch Golden Age and the invention of the microscope. This renewed a fascination with the small, overlooked natural environment, prompting curiosity of the microcosms, and expanding our understanding of the world we inhabit.

Not dissimilarly, Brewer adopts a new technological tool, one of rapidly emerging scientific and social importance: Artificial Intelligence. Brewer’s investigation into this tool led to the discovery that the artist’s earlier work could be visually approximated by AI, almost uncannily, by a lengthy, poetic input of associative words that came to mind when creating and thinking of the original work. With this process, Brewer recognized that AI could be used as a powerful device, building on existing methods and perhaps in some ways affirming them. Prompted by an interest in language, the artist experiments with how close the AI image could be to the language of the artist’s ideas. The works in this exhibition continue Brewer’s practice of utilizing the possibility of chance elements, semiotics, and the dream space of surrealism, thereby further inquiring about our inner states and their relation to the exterior world.

Akin to how the artist previously collaged found image materials and thematic ideas, here, Brewer experiments with AI language inputs and digital tools, incorporating both general and hyper-specific keywords such as “pyroclastic flow, frog point of view, convergent evolution, post-EMP scene, and bas relief.” The outcome of these experiments then produced the imagery that would be used as fragments for the works’ final compositions. Through this method, Brewer continues a practice attentive to a subconscious, intuitive process, evoking the function of emergent and associative images and how one recalls imagery from memory. The resulting works blur the boundaries of distinct entities, a characteristic hallmark of AI images, and a key aspect of historical painting practice.

Quite interestingly, the participation of AI in the works’ production appears unintelligible, for the most part, as the artist’s dissonant palette, distinct mark making, subject matter, and cohesive connection to previous works makes obvious that the work is of the artist. The use of AI then generates exciting questions of how something so semantic can get so close to something one creates in painting through an unknowable, subjective process and how a collective database of source material can produce images that feel quite painterly without asking it to do so.

Documentation by Rachel Topham Photography.

Exhibition walkthrough video here.