Frank Bruckmann at Kehler Liddell Gallery

Bread and Oil

On one Westville menu, Turkey Sausage costs $4,600. Pasta Primavera goes for $4,800.

That’s because they’re paintings, part of Frank Bruckmann’s Breaking Bread. On display at Westville’s Kehler Liddell Gallery through April 26, the exhibit is an examination of life around a rich symbol of home: the dinner table, also good for breakfast, lunch and snacks.

The oil paintings celebrate the informality, the closeness, the liveliness that often accompany intimate food-driven gatherings, especially the ones where there’s a bottle or two of red or white on the table. Capturing candlelit scenes in textured brushstrokes and warm tones, Bruckmann says, “I just like the feeling of everyone getting together and talking. It’s a nice way to get to know people.”

And the paintings, seeing as they feature close family and good friends, are a nice way to get to know Bruckmann. For a more direct introduction to the artist, try stopping in this Saturday; Bruckmann says he plans to be there that day.

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Then again, perhaps no introduction is necessary. Bruckmann’s a familiar figure in New Haven, in part because his work has explored a good deal of the city. Subjects have ranged from the highly visible—like Chapel Street, or West Rock—to the less so: in his series Occupational Spirit, he painted behind-the-scenes images of professionals working for Westville spots like Lyric Hall, Aquila Motors and Racquet Koop.

Bruckmann’s style and approach are the result of a varied artistic education. A late bloomer, he began painting in his mid-twenties, after discovering a knack and a passion for it. That led to classes at the duCret School of Art in New Jersey and The Art Students League of New York.

Then it was off to learn from the masters—sort of. He traveled to Spain and France, where he copied works at museums like the Louvre and the Prado, and painted both urban and rural landscapes, chatting up locals and learning each country’s tongue in the process.

These days, Westville is home for Bruckmann and his family, although summer often finds them northward-bound, heading to Maine’s Monhegan Island, an artist colony accessible only by boat and, therefore, car-free. It’s an inspiring enclave of rocky coast, crashing waves, rustic cottages and plank bridges that have, naturally, found their way into Bruckmann’s oeuvre. (Visit his website for a virtual tour of his work, including the Monhegan pieces.)

Like a chef perfecting a recipe, Bruckmann’s Breaking Bread was an exercise in reworking… and reworking… until the canvas was just right. “Nothing was left to chance,” he writes in a statement accompanying the exhibit. You can get a glimpse of that in the complex textures—luminescence and shadow achieved via painstakingly achieved color gradations, for instance—that help bring them to life. If you visit, make sure you give the pieces a close-enough inspection.

Bruckmann did just that as he worked on the series. “I’d sit there and stare at them for a really long time,” he says. “I took a lot of liberties to make them the way I want them.” What he means is that an individual who’d actually attended a dinner party might not be there in the final version (ouch), or a mimosa or half-finished plate may have disappeared, so that Bruckmann could get the balance he wanted in the painting.

The result is a mix of realism and “having fun with the paint,” he says, which mirrors the viewer experience. These are scenes that can ping your own treasured dining moments, radiating a sense of playfulness but also a sense of gravity—just like a great dinner party.

Breaking Bread by Frank Bruckmann
Kehler Liddell Gallery
 – 873 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Thurs-Fri 11am-4pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4pm
(203) 389-9555
Gallery Website | Artist Website

Written by Cara McDonough. Photograph provided by Muffy Pendergast.

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