Brian Cypher lives just over an hour outside of Seattle in an area populated by farmland and flanked by abrupt, tall, evergreen-lined hills. Far off in the distance you can see Orcas Island, and the faint smell of salt air floats in from Puget Sound. When I arrive, the sky is cast in an eerie orange light reminiscent of sunset, but it’s mid-afternoon. There are forest fires nearby. The edges of our surroundings are soft, diffused, hazy, and warm. This is summertime in the Northwest.
When I step into Brian’s newly-forged studio, the soft edges of my surroundings shift into a crisp full-spectrum focus. He’s built a small studio that feels like a miniature Manhattan art gallery - a large room with high panoramic windows, exposed wood beam trestle, and plain concrete floor - in which he houses his archive and works tirelessly on a new extremely large-format body of work. But while it’s clearly extraordinarily crafted, even though only in progress, it’s not what catches my attention immediately. I am captivated by a much quieter row to my right, a series of works on brown paper which emit a soft vibration of irresistible shapes, line, and tangle.
I last worked with Brian for his solo exhibition Future Forage at LxWxH Gallery. In that series, he explored a similar vein of tangle evoking many of the same forms and concepts. Historically, Cypher's work was rooted in equation, drawing on geometry, pattern, rhythm, and mark-making; his lineage echoing the aesthetics and formalism of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism. In Future Forage, Cypher broke free from the confines of line to revel in an electric display of asymmetrical organic forms and bright chroma.
Now, for Hinterland at Studio E in Georgetown, Cypher's process has shifted from excavation to rebuilding. He begins with existing layers of leftover paper and globs of drywall mud left on the paper which lined his studio during construction. In this way, he participates in a kind of secret collaboration with the builders, finding his way forward through this familiar-but-different terrain. It would make sense in the wake of the construction of his new studio, that this architectural process would manifest in the literal surface of these new works. They are are a direct product of the remnants of what’s been left behind. Their compositional light and texture reflect the natural world outside, while built on the manmade materials from inside. Each decision and mark is an additive with intention
The very definition of hinterland describes something more specific than just back country or the middle of nowhere: it’s defined as an area that lies inland but directly adjacent to a coastline. This is precisely where Cypher lives, physically if not not metaphorically. These paintings describe branches, barbs, clusters and nets - all familiar terrain but carrying the potential for unknown terrain. Their symbolic power is in their mapping, which echo the nearby landscape of grasslands, tree branches, hillsides, and bodies of water; as well as bridges, roads, and highways as seen from above. Or, even, the trestle of the studio itself.
Cypher taps into an ancient lineage of descriptive and symbolic documentation of the surrounding world. We are always building on top of ruins and leftovers of the past. Having emerged from the fallen material of new construction, like a new forest after a burn; this series of works on paper has become a fascinating cluster of new growth. They are as varied as the sprouts which grow from freshly uncovered hibernating seeds. They reveal an excavated, built-up landscape, after a long journey beneath the soil. This is the hinterland - a complex array of newfound visual and tactile texture.
Brian Cypher's solo exhibition Hinterland is on view at Studio E in Georgetown through October 3.
Gallery hours are Fridays and Saturdays, 1-6pm, with the artist present on Saturdays.
609 S Brandon St, Seattle WA 98108
(click on the images below to enlarge)