So what does your nostalgia look like? Does it play out in jerky movements on a black-and-white newsreel? Is it frozen in sepia-tone, like an antique photograph? Or maybe it’s bathed in mist, à la some campy sitcom flashback.
Well, if you’re Allen Brewer, nostalgia is a sheet of carbon paper — tissue-thin, crinkly and capable of absorbing only faint copies of an initial impression.
In his new solo show at Le Méridien Chambers’ Burnet Gallery, which opened last Friday, the local artist unveiled 75 new drawings, 50 of which have been scratched exquisitely through carbon paper. One of the finest illustrators in the Twin Cities, Brewer has held his childhood at pencil point for years, working through his memories with a fastidious, detail-rich style that feels spooky and out-of-date. It’s not that he draws specific memories. He creates a mood of age and recollection.
And more often than not, the mood of a Brewer piece is sinister and a tad perverse. Looking back with him is like paging through an old phrenology manual, a reminiscence that is eerie and vaguely unsettling.
The Chambers show, entitled “if not it, then what?”, finds Brewer pairing cryptic text with his imagery, a strategy he used with much success for a show last winter at Umber Studios, a gallery in South Minneapolis. A few words float near each drawing — “to have died” above an image of a creepy fairy in a cowboy hat, “or hornet” next to a clown with two sets of feet. Each is a linguistic jab at surrealism, a nod to Magritte’s “The Key of Dreams.” But the result isn’t academic investigation; it’s introspective revelry.
“As a kid I’d try to create mental memories,” Brewer said, “thinking to myself, ‘remember this for later, so the adult you doesn’t forget what this feels like.’ These pieces are a result of those efforts.”
The words are not random, and neither are the images. Brewer works according to self-imposed rules, which dictate that he find an image possessing a “tangential link to [his] youth” in an old book or magazine, and then that he excise words from the very same page. The words must bear no literal connection to the image.
The final paper used for each piece usually has a worn, antiquated look. They are often found pages, creased and yellowed, as if they’ve fallen out of some dusty library book. And the type of paper dictates the choice of image and words.
In every case, the connections are inscrutable and intuitive, vague to outsiders, possibly even vague to Brewer himself. It’s that childhood reminder being dredged up and distorted by an adult perspective.
Or, if you will, the carbon copy, crinkly and thin, peeling away from the original.