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Eugene von Bruenchenhein at Ricco/Maresca
Eugene von Bruenchenhein must be one of the most prolific and eccentric artists America has ever produced. For more than 40 years, the artist, who lived in Wisconsin all his life, worked as a baker and gardener by day, and at night produced thousands of art objects that filled his shabby suburban home. Completely self-taught, he never exhibited and no one except his wife Marie ever saw his visionary paintings, sculptures, ceramics and photos until his death in 1983, at age 73.
Since then, the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan, Wisc., which acquired much of his estate from the artist's widow, has presented a number of shows of his work.
But aside from annual appearances at the Outsider Fair, von Bruenchenhein's work is rarely seen in New York. The best-known portion of his oeuvre is a group of eroticized photos he made of Marie, three of which are included in this show. But the focus of the exhibition is on 10 of his phantasmagoric paintings made with acrylic paint and brushes that he fashioned using locks of his wife's hair. All of these untitled works feature intricate passages of finger painting and subtle textural nuances that the artist achieved with the simplest of means.
Among the works on view are brilliantly colored panels that show imaginary landscapes filled with exotic plants and Mesozoic creatures. Everything in the paintings seems to be writhing, undulating or floating in an otherworldly ether. They appear to be quasi-surrealist dreamscapes or sci-fi images, and many of them seem to be apocalyptic scenes, portending nuclear disaster. Fear of a nuclear holocaust, in fact, obsessed the artist for many years, and motivated him to produce a number of these unforgettable paintings.
Eugene von Bruenchenhein, "Botanical Explosions," Oct.19-Nov. 25, at Ricco/Maresca, 529 West 20 Street, New York, N.Y. 10011.
DAVID EBONY is associate managing editor of Art in America.