Brooks Shane Salzwedel

Brooks Shane Salzwedel is a California-based artist whose mixed-media art juxtaposes man-made constructs and nature. He’s been around for awhile, but I was unfamiliar with his work until I came across a recent post on one of my favourite art blogs, the Jealous Curator.

Brooks Shane Salzwedel - Held Up - 2008

Brooks Shane Salzwedel – Held Up. 2008

Salzwedel’s art evokes an ephemeral world shrouded in mist, like classical Chinese ink & wash paintings addressing post-industrial themes . There’s also a vaguely unsettling quality to his work that hints at the post-apocalyptic, but the overall impression is more of a momento mori than  scenes from Armageddon.

Brooks Shane Salzwedel - Cliff with Misplaced Water Tower - 2013

Brooks Shane Salzwedel – Cliff with Misplaced Water Tower. graphite, tape, coloured pencil, spray paint on mylar and resin on panel, 18 x 24″ 2013

Some of his work consists of mountainous landscapes that look like a scene from the winter after a forest fire. In others, bridges, trestles, and partially dismantled towers loom out through the fog. Floating nests of broken trees emerge from polluted clouds. Monumental bones merge with snow-covered mountains, or drift through polluted skies.

Brooks Shane Salzwedel - the Pass - 2012

Brooks Shane Salzwedel – the Pass. Graphite, tape, mylar & resin on panel, 25.5×37.5″, 2012

While some of Salzwedel’s work is quite large, as much as 72.5″ across, most of it is on a  more intimate scale. Going by his portfolio site, his more recent work is usually on small panels, about a foot square. He also occasionally creates miniatures in old pill boxes or using cross-sections of old pipes as frames, like tiny lockets, which makes sense as he mentions vintage daguerrotype photos as an artistic inspiration.

Brooks Shane Salzwedel - Tangled - 2007

Brooks Shane Salzwedel – Tangled 2007

His technique has evolved over time, but in essence his process is to draw on layered sheets of paper with varying opacities then coat the finished piece with resin. He layers sheets of Mylar, Duralar, and acetate, drawing on each layer with combinations of graphite, coloured pencil, or charcoal, sometimes adding watercolour paint, spraypaint, or ochre-tinted adhesive tape. The varying opacity of each layer creates a sense of depth that is finally sealed in place with a coating of  resin. The overall collage/ assemblage effect is vaguely reminiscent of a diorama or shadow box – but not the sort of collage in say, the work of Joseph Cornell, but more graphic, almost like layered animation cels.

Brooks Shane Salzwedel - Ship Wreath - 2013

Brooks Shane Salzwedel – Ship Wreath. Graphite, tape, color pencil on mylar on panel, 16×12″ 2013

Interestingly, Salzwedel developed this technique exploring different media while still in art school. It’s pretty unusual to see artists taking advantage of the translucent effects of materials like drafting paper or mylar – the only other one I can think of off the top of my head is the Canadian artist Betty Goodwin. When I was in art school a lot of people were inspired by Goodwin to work on drafting mylar but the idea of using it to create actual planes of depth and then seal them in place like Salzwedel does is completely novel to me. There’s a finality to it that’s very appealing.

I would say that my practice is primarily about drawing, but in the end I use a variety of different mediums. Once I’ve dipped the piece in resin, there’s no going back. I can’t change anything, which is sometimes annoying. Sometimes I want to go back and modify an element, but my mistakes are trapped in the resin forever.
– translated from French, from an interview with Thomas Lapointe in Entre

Salzwedel describes his work as a tension between natural forces and the built world, especially urban development, and explains that in part his use of extremely toxic resins is meant to reflect pollution and degradation. In the end, though, the landscapes are of his own invention, populated with hypothetical relics of human existence. The resulting work is simultaneously intimately ephemeral, and removed from time – like a scene from a possible future, trapped in amber.

Brooks Shane Salzwedel - Reflection - 2010

Brooks Shane Salzwedel – Reflection. 2010

You can see more of Salzwedel’s work on his portfolio website or on his Facebook page. If you happen to be in the Okland, CA area, he currently has a show (until Jan. 18, 2014) at Johansson Projects on Telegraph & 23rd.