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Art Review: Bruce Docker’s Oriental Series in Kansas City

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The unique style of every standout painter is manifested in their artwork, making it easily recognizable. But Bruce Docker invests such a tightly formulated set of painterly principles into his own, that, regardless of the theme, a number of paintings can often be viewed as a series — on precisely those principles. While every piece is a complete work of art, it is the series that will produce the most dramatic impact.

What makes this trait particularly engaging and challenging is that it is up to the viewer to choose the pieces that would make up the best collection; if four paintings would seem optimal to one, another would rather add a piece, or substitute a painting for a different one (this dynamism will also parry any accusations of uniformity and monotony). Looking at Bruce's art requires more than just the sense of vision; for a complete experience the observer needs to partake in a mind game not unlike Lego, where each painting becomes a piece that will fit into the cycle. In a way, the viewer becomes involved in the artistic process, creating a meta work of art by practicing the freedom of choice.

Writing about Bruce's art basically means describing the said set of principles, of which there are quite a few. The artist prefers saturated colors, which often transform into very bright, brilliant hues on the one hand and dark, next to black on the other — a sophisticated manipulation of value. In more concrete terms, many of his pieces contain a sharp contrast of light and shadow. Bruce likes angles and slopes; many of his paintings display a deep perspective — another feature — which allows for diagonals that delineate these acclivities and descents. Brushwork is made visible, producing a disarming informal effect. Regarding formal style, it would be best to quote the artist himself: "My artistic influences are based in the art of the early 20th century, in the paintings and prints of the post-impressionists, the fauves and the German expressionists. Like the work of those artists, I explore the space between representative and abstract art." Indeed, his artwork may often seem like a melting pot of various schools — a rich and diverse stylistic texture.

There is a strong oriental vein in Bruce's work. His landscapes and farm scenes are reminiscent of Japanese wood prints, both in composition and palette. He bends trees and tilts the ground in unconventional, at least in western terms, twists; his cautious and reverential treatment of space also exhibits a touch of the oriental. Japanese workshops often manufactured a series of works, and so does Bruce, either intentionally or not. Perhaps that he paints on plywood is also more than a coincidence. Post-impressionist artist were known to be influenced by Hiroshige and Utamaro, and thus Bruce may be enjoying an indirect fruition from the eastern art form. Eventually, in spite of these influences, the core of the artist's style remains strictly his own, and though there is a measure of predictability, each new painting comes as a surprise. For me, there is a always a measure of comfort to be found in the fact that you both know and don't know what to expect.



Bruce Docker lives and works in Kansas City, Missouri, USA. He keeps a website where you can browse through his earlier work, and a blog where you can view his latest daily paintings.

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