Brooks Cashbaugh: Demotic Emolument (of The People, a reward for Good Work)

Few images capturing the essence of American identity can stand the test of time and override the trappings of overuse, celebrity, cliché and kitsch. Indiana-based painter, Brooks Cashbaugh, has been investigating the vast cultural landscape of Americana through his figurative painting practice, this time with twelve paintings in his current exhibition (on view through July 7th, 2012) at Peter Miller Gallery Chicago, “Demotic Emolument (of The People, a reward for Good Work).” Featuring an array of cultural figures from various points within the last two centuries, Cashbaugh’s works center around a loose conceptual framework of resistance, counterculture and niche interest with historical figures, celebrities and anonymous characters that compose our American folklore.  -Robin Dluzen, Chicago Contributor

Brooks Cashbaugh | Hostess, 2012, acrylic and paint marker on canvas, 46" x 40"  Photo courtesy of the artist and Peter Miller Gallery

With compositions cribbed from old masterworks, the artist riffs on the history of portraiture with his penchant for illustrative marks and a saccharine palette. Cashbaugh’s style lies somewhere between illustration and Impressionism, rendering his subjects with a formal exuberance that invigorates these static figures of history. Though the artist claims that figures like Gus Grissom, Jane Addams, Patti Smith and Marlon Brando have a spirit “that seems to be forgotten,” and that their “legacies are ripe for revival,” many of them honestly don’t need much help in that department. Cashbaugh gets closer to fulfilling his aims with more anonymous figures, like The Bearded Lady and Hobos, who may not have the established legacies of the cultural heroes of his exhibition, but nonetheless maintain a comfortable notoriety in our American psyche.

Brooks Cashbaugh | Patti Smith, 2012, acrylic and paint marker on canvas, 24" x 24"  Photo courtesy of the artist and Peter Miller Gallery

However, of the twelve paintings, one subject in particular thoroughly embodies the anonymity and the American vernacular that the artist is preoccupied with illustrating. Unlike the other radical or heroic figures in the exhibition, she is a subject who has not yet been laden with fame, overuse or redundancy. In Cashbaugh’s The Hostess, the female figure is rendered with the artist’s furtive gestures and pop sensibility, though with a notably darker palette and a gaze cast out and away from the viewer. Standing diligently at her post with a uniform and a bob, the subject bears a rather striking resemblance to Robert Frank’s ‘Elevator Girl,’ immortalized through photo and catapulted into literary, art and American history in Jack Kerouac’s introduction to Frank’s book of photos, The Americans. In that essay, Kerouac is enamored with the doe-eyed brunette from Frank’s Elevator — Miami Beach, 1955 --”And I say: That little ole lonely elevator girl looking up sighing in an elevator full of blurred demons, what’s her name & address?” With the same romance and reverence for the ordinary and drudgery of the modern life, Cashbaugh’s works in the exhibition bring a fresh take to this holy and well-worn American sentiment. Whereas Kerouac saw Frank as “suck[ing] a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world,” Cashbaugh’s engagement with the overlooked and arguably forgotten is no sad poem, but a reawakening of idealism with an optimistic finish.

Brooks Cashbaugh | St. Jane Addams and Ellen Gates Starr, 2012, acrylic and paint marker on canvas, 72" x 60" Photo courtesy of the artist and Peter Miller Gallery

Brooks Cashbaugh | Marlon Brando, 2012, acrylic and paint marker on canvas, 16" x 12"  Photo courtesy of the artist and Peter Miller Gallery

Brooks Cashbaugh received a BFA in Studio Art and a BA Political Science from Indiana University in Bloomington, IN. Represented by Peter Miller Gallery in Chicago, the artist has also exhibited in such venues as the Midwest Museum of American Art in Elkhart, IN; Freedman Gallery, Reading, PA; and Gigantic Gallery in Portland, OR. He is also the recipient of the Canvas Creative Arts Magazine Editor’s Choice Award and was a Windgate Fellowship Nominee. “Demotic Emolument (of The People, a reward for Good Work)” is on display at Peter Miller Gallery through July 7, 2012.

Robin Dluzen is a Chicago-based artist and writer, and the former Editor-in-Chief of Chicago Art Magazine. Dluzen's writing can be found in such publications as art ltd. magazine, i4design Magazine, the Chicago Reader and the New American Paintings blog.


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