Art

Henri Paul Broyard, Bold Up-and-Comer

Left: FW17, 2018, by Henri Paul Broyard. Acrylic, graphite, chalk, and flashe on canvas. (Courtesy Grant Wahlquist Gallery)

Right: ELT, 2019, by Henri Paul Broyard. Acrylic and flashe on panel. (Courtesy Grant Wahlquist Gallery)

In his edgy abstract paintings, contrasting colors, shapes, and textures play well together.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Angela Lorenz, an American working mostly in Bologna making artist’s books, those weird and wonderful amalgams of images and narrative. She’s an under-the-radar artist whose work is conceptual and sensual, erudite and often whimsical. This week, I’m looking at the work of a young up-and-coming artist, Henri Paul Broyard.

Broyard, 30, lives in Brooklyn and paints in a style that’s abstract and coded but grounded in things we know. His interiors and landscapes, some small but all human scale, start with the honest scenes that fill our everyday lives. He then frees us to look at his lovely, clever sense of color and his surprising compositions. His paintings are edgy and engaging. We can look at them over and over, live with them, and constantly find new intrigues.

SCRASC is from 2017. It’s acrylic, spray paint, and flashe, a vinyl-based paint that’s matte and velvety rather than dense like oil paint. Broyard starts with a source image, usually an old photograph of an interior from the ’60s or ’70s. He grew up in South Central Los Angeles and likes the bright, clean, colorful California look from that period. He might like a shape he sees in the photograph — say, the pillow in this picture — and go from there. He loves big, bold, geometric shapes contrasted with small marks that look arbitrary and free, like the black comet-shapes on the pillow. He’s after balance among shapes, but also between hard and soft, and flat and gloss. He pulls us in with dots, odd shapes, and angles that are just a bit off.

His surfaces can be lush, but not like oil paintings where glazes, impasto, and mixed colors create dense, variegated surfaces. Wisps of spray paint and a fascination with different textures keep the eye fixed on his work. Contrasts between colors can feel stark and direct, like the blue and red in FW17, or more conversational, like the intimate 29, where he used red and yellow. He’s looking for colors that play well together. Sometimes they jostle like lovers, other times like old friends.

Broyard takes his time, often working off and on for a year on a single picture. He wants to get the balance right, so he keeps images of paintings in the mix on his phone, looking at the photos on the subway or while cooking, thinking about tweaks to reach what I call enigmatic harmony.

Some pictures are more enigmatic than others. ELT from 2019 is a small puzzle, one abstract swirl of paint in a tight rectangle surrounded by a black-and-white pattern. Is it a painting on a wall or a study in texture, color, and shape? Up to the viewer. Broyard doesn’t impose. His work has plenty of dash but also plenty of poise.

Left: SCRASC, 2017, by Henri Paul Broyard. Acrylic, flashe, and spray paint on linen. (Courtesy Grant Wahlquist Gallery)
Right: 29, 2018, by Henri Paul Broyard. Acrylic and graphite on canvas. (Courtesy Grant Wahlquist Gallery)

I like small things and deplore the era of gigantism we’re suffering. Broyard focuses on scale relationships among the objects in his pictures but also on the harmony of scale between his paintings and real people who live in real homes. He’s an original thinker, but, as precedents go, his work reminds me why I love Edouard Vuillard and Fairfield Porter: for scale — small — and subject — beguilingly simple and discreet interiors.

Broyard’s training initially attracted my curiosity. He studied art at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, one of the oldest and best schools in Germany. He was a student of Peter Doig, a very good teacher whose passion for truth is infectious and whose modesty allows his students to develop their own style. The Düsseldorf school figures in American art history from the 1840s into the 1860s. The school trained many of America’s early masters, among them George Caleb Bingham, Albert Bierstadt, Eastman Johnson, and William Morris Hunt. These days, it’s still a superb place for cultivating talent. Joseph Beuys, Gerhard Richter, Anselm Kiefer, and Candida Höfer are some of its graduates.

When I was a museum director, I didn’t have much money to spend on art. The marketplace heavies among living artists were unreachable to us, which didn’t distress me in the least. I can’t fathom buying something for a million bucks that was painted six months ago. My curators and I had to work harder, deploy our enterprising, sharp Yankee spirit, and search for the best new artists. We advanced careers and gave our audience fresh, new faces and stories. And, to my skinflint Vermont delight, we didn’t spend a ton of money. Don’t let any director tell you this isn’t possible.

Henri Paul Broyard

I’ve written often about how much I admire dealers. Grant Wahlquist represents Boyard. He’s young, too, and has a gallery in Portland, Maine. Like every small dealer, he has faith in his artists, faith leading to the risk that makes a dealer both a visionary and an entrepreneur. I’m passionate about the small and midsize dealers, mostly but not always in New York, some well established and some new. They promote both fresh artists like Broyard and the fine artists who don’t generate the kind of buzz that sounds to me like irritating cackle. Dealers help make an era’s taste, too. They’re the unheralded heroes in art history.

Wahlquist is in Maine, too, which has a distinguished art heritage but isn’t New York. His finds, like Broyard, say something worth remembering. It’s a big country. There’s cutting-edge, quality work beyond the island of Manhattan. If the chase appeals, and you want a bargain, I’d look seriously at these markets.

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