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Meet Local Painter Bruce Bitmead

Bruce Bitmead's long-weathered painting table, or taboret, carries 20 years of paint and scars.


Slick black ice coats the walk on the winding way to Bruce Bitmead’s basement studio. He welcomes me into a single long rectangular room with a low ceiling right off the laundry room of a large brick apartment house anchoring one corner of a Richmond Avenue roundabout. We crack open some Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys and settle in for a visit.

Bitmead is a painter who loves paint. His paint table, or taborette, is evident of the 20-plus years of his artistic life. A short, ordinary, mass-produced, two-shelved cabinet, it is essentially grey with years of built-up encrustations of flicked pigment mixed into a congealed impasto. It stands on little wheels as over time he moves it from one studio to another.

“Twelve years in Buffalo, the longest I’ve ever stayed in one place,” he says, “Seven years in one apartment.”

After art school, Bitmead was a graphic artist for a while in Illinois. With no car or bike but not far from work, he spent evenings walking home through lighted suburban neighborhoods wondering what lives were lived within. His paintings, landscapes for the most part, create for the viewer the same wonder lust. Using the pictorial vocabulary of Edward Hopper, Fairfield Porter, and more recently Alex Katz, Bitmead situates his subject houses in a built environment. They look heavy in the earth, fixed vessels with strong intentional architecture in a palette of grays, blues, and ocher-whites that appear inhabited but give no animate expectations. He illuminates these in brush-width strokes: windows in the side of a house, moonlight grazing sidewalks.

Unlike Hopper or Porter, there is no narrative, no visual story line to identify time or place. Nothing to suggest familiarity. His paintings are closer to those of the well-known New York painter, Alex Katz. Like Katz, Bitmead builds paintings modularly with a fully loaded brush, creating a stark solid weight of a roof line in one stroke, placing one tree slightly in front of another tree and both in front of a house within a raking light ebbing at the penumbra of a cast shadow all with an assured sense of the way paint color affects the perception of volume in a painting.

“I always felt outside, even in a city, felt left out of things, uninvited wondering what it would be to be part of something inside,” he says.

Bitmead’s paintings are strong in exactly those terms and why a viewer might recognize a similar vantage point: the sense of outside, just passing through. One new painting is of doors—one facing another, each seeming to question the other’s interior. Another sites a low brick wall featuring a vacant open rectangle with blue sky beyond. Bitmead works in a painterly way, investing his images with both craft and character, but it is the character of a glimpse, a brief encounter, a momentary memory flash to a film, or novel, or poem. It is in the rectangle and how the distance from the painter (observer) to the space (subject matter) creates a context, a believable place. In Bitmead, an artist with a gentle probing curiosity, inspiration is fused with an incentive to find the intrinsic character of each spatial mystery.

Bitmead has an show called Reflected Light: New Paintings by Bruce Philip Bitmead, which opens at the Starlight Art Gallery on March 8, with a reception on April 1. His works are also part of a show called Making Marks, which opens at Artspace on April 2.

j. tim raymond

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