Bricque on the Wall

Mixed-media collage artist Bricque Garber’s latest work might be influenced by somber current events, but she’s still finding plenty of joy in creating – and lifting up others in the process.

Mixed-media collage artist Bricque Garber doesn’t know how to describe her process.  “It’s an interesting question...,” she says in a video that appears on the website for Cousen Rose Gallery, the Oak Bluffs mainstay that since 2020 has featured the artist’s work. “If you ask my partner, she would say: I put on my oldest clothes, I sit down at the table, and I tear up paper like a toddler. Which is pretty accurate, actually,” Garber says with
a laugh. 

The finished product is anything but childlike. Canvases, ranging in size from eight-by-eight to thirty-by-forty inches, typically feature layers of paint, colored paper, ribbons, yarn, threads, and newspaper clippings that are artfully composed by a clearly skilled hand. And yet a childlike sense of experimentation is essential to their creation. Garber is always on the lookout for scraps of paper and bits of string that might someday, in some way, make it into her work. Some of those pieces will be on display when her annual Cousen Rose Gallery show opens on July 18.

She typically begins each piece with underpainting – the process of trying to get color in the background that might peek through in places – and then proceeds to “wing it” in the layering that follows. “I don’t draw anything. I don’t cut paper and arrange it on a canvas before I glue it down. I just start gluing,” she said during a recent interview at her Edgartown studio. “Sometimes I start out with one thing and by the time I finish it, it turns out to be something totally different.” 

Bricque Garber applies paper and paint to canvas in her studio space in Edgartown.
Ray Ewing

It’s a process that mirrors her own path in life and trajectory as an artist, with each piece built upon the layer that came before it. The underpainting of those layers began in Michigan, where she grew up. After high school, she moved to Northern California for undergraduate studies. She spent most of her adult life in that state.

“That changes you in so many ways that you don’t appreciate until years later,” Garber reflected. “I was in Berkeley, the Bay area, then the North Bay, and the Russian River, so I was surrounded by hippies, gay people, and political people.” 

West coast living not only provided her with a politically conscious and active community; it also sparked her foray into art. She found photography to be an enjoyable medium, but she eventually stopped due to the chemical exposure and being “not really into digital” at the time.

 In the late 2000s she exchanged coasts and moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her partner, Katherine Triantafillou. They ended up moving to West Tisbury on the heels of the Great Recession, where Triantafillou has what Garber refers to as a “basic, little summer home.” 

The Blues, mixed media/collage, 36 x 48 inches.

Like many a washashore, the couple planned for their Island tenure to be a brief one. Fifteen years later, Garber said that she couldn’t imagine leaving the Vineyard. The switch to Island living led to her serving for more than a decade as the administrator for the Edgartown Historic District Commission, a position from which she recently retired. It also brought about a new artistic medium for her to explore.

“When I moved here, I started doing acrylic painting. Then, little by little, I started adding pieces of paper to it until pretty much the paper took over the painting,” she recounted. “I think things evolve in a way. I just find myself moving one direction or another, like getting excited about this or that.”

Garber eventually began displaying her work at community shows at Featherstone Center for the Arts in Oak Bluffs and teaching mixed media collage classes there. The monthly classes have since become popular enough for Featherstone to initiate a mixed media open studio, which has been running since January 2023. 

While establishing herself in the Vineyard art scene, she also participated in the All Island Art Show, an annual event at the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association in Oak Bluffs, where her work caught the attention of Zita Cousens, owner of Cousen Rose Gallery. The two didn’t connect immediately; a friend indicated that the person checking out her collages was the owner of a gallery. But by the time Garber stood up to meet her, Cousens was gone. Garber later sent an email, made a connection, and Cousens agreed to rep her work.

Smoke & Rain, mixed media/collage, 30 x 40 inches.

“Bricque is a genius at creating scenes by ‘painting with pieces of paper and mixed media.’ She has created collections that spark curiosity, dialogue, and emotion,” Cousens recently observed. “I love to be in the mix of gallery viewers to hear the conversations.”

Garber, in turn, said she was “thrilled” for the opportunity to gain official representation, noting that “people who love art just can’t stop.”

While securing gallery representation on an Island chock full of talented artists might have felt like a dream, current events, the nation’s political climate, and a sense of “sadness and fear for the future” soon brought Garber back to earth. It also affected her art. 

At the time, the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the return of Taliban control in Afghanistan, and the country’s political divisiveness dominated the news cycle. As Garber processed such events, her work began to take on more somber tones and themes. Pastels and bright colors gave way to shades of white and black. 

Wish, mixed media/collage, 12 x 16 inches.

“I don’t think I’ve picked up a pink piece of paper in the last year,” she said with a knowing chuckle.

Much of that work would go on to form the basis of “She,” a 2022–2023 series of collages featuring large groups of “abstract” women with no mouths that represented the “shutting down and silencing of women.” 

More recently, she has felt compelled to explore the topic of war, particularly in the context of the ongoing conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. Current pieces, which will be displayed at the Cousen Rose Gallery show, are part of the “Remains of the Day” series, a nod to destruction in the aftermath of conflict. Describing the “pull” of political subjects in her work, Garber asserted that art and politics are inextricable from one another. 

“Even if you don’t view what’s happening around you at all and totally go into your medium with just art on your mind and nothing else, that’s still a statement,” Garber explained. 

Standing Door, mixed media/collage, 16 x 20 inches.

She credits artists conveying optimism in their work as a source of both inspiration and catharsis in the midst of bleak news. Recently, she said, she had a conversation with a friend in California, a production potter whose ceramics emanate happiness with “lovely” pinks, pale oranges, and yellows. When Garber commended the friend on her cheerful art, she received an insightful response.

Her friend said, “‘Well, I can’t go there. I need to stay in this palette and hope that my work inspires hope.’ So, there’s the other side of it.”

While the subjects of her work have grown darker in nature, Garber said she’s been able to cultivate happiness through creation in her Featherstone classes. Each month she hosts a four-hour workshop, as well as an open studio every Thursday night for drop-ins. Attendees include visitors and residents spanning various ages and backgrounds. 

She’s hesitant to call herself an instructor – Garber insists that her teaching in the class goes no further than the basics: recommendations for glue, durability of materials, tearing properties of different papers. Once the attendees have received the basic thirty-minute orientation and jump in, she finds the ensuing experience immensely inspiring.

Tarn, mixed media/collage, 12 x 12 inches.

“I love the classes. You come in there and you can’t even draw a stick figure? It doesn’t matter. Just take a piece of paper and glue it down and you’ve started,” she explained. 

“It’s really fun, simple, and it takes you out of the ‘now’ for a few hours. You get totally involved in doing this thing.”  

Participants don’t have to bring anything to the workshops: Garber provides pupils with a theme, as well as canvas, brushes, paint, and paper. Getting quality supplies is a priority for her, she said, as she hopes the attendees create something they will display in their homes. Deep-cradle wrapped canvases are her preferred choice because they spare participants the cost of a frame. 

“I’ll tell people, ‘You’ve got all these hours to work on this and make the changes you want to make. If they hate their creation, they can just go over it with layering. But if they love it, it’s not going to look cheesy and cheap.”

Holding Together, mixed media/collage, 30 x 40 inches.

The workshops have attracted everyone from seasoned artists to folks brand new to the medium. The accessibility of the mixed media collage format makes it appealing for those with little art experience, she explained. 

“It always makes me feel so great when someone comes in and says, ‘I can’t draw, I can’t paint.’ But they signed up and they showed up, you know? They come in and you just watch people blossom. It’s really quite extraordinary.” 

Several students have attended the workshops repeatedly, including three women – Ann Meleney, Alisun Armstrong, and Dorothy Petell – who attended her first workshop and have frequented most since. 

The women have extensive backgrounds in other mediums but were new to the art of collage. And yet through the workshops, they developed their own distinct styles. This summer, they will each debut four new works alongside Garber at the Cousen Rose Gallery.

She #25, mixed media/collage, 12 x 18 inches.

Garber had initially approached Cousens about including Meleney, Armstrong, and Petell and gained her enthusiastic support before pitching the idea to the three pupils.

“When I asked them, they were all very nervous and excited. I just know it’ll be the best gallery show ever, because they’ll be in it,” she said. 

Giving other women their chance in the spotlight is not only a fitting counterpoint to Garber’s “She” series, but a testament to her ability to find enjoyment in the act of creating, especially when participating in that process with others. 

Sharing the stage with three of her pupils this summer means that, for the first time in the collage medium, the women will experience the feeling of being a “rock star” at an artist’s reception, as Garber puts it. They will also get to view their work professionally displayed, complete with stellar lighting to accentuate their work.

That, said Garber, is a formative and illuminating experience she recalls well.

In fact, when the artist was first featured in a gallery show at Featherstone, she recalled being “blown away, not by the work, but by the light of the work, because I’d never seen it like that.”

“You get to pull all the things that are underneath your bed from ten years out, then hang them on a wall with really nice lighting,” Garber said with a laugh. “It makes a huge change!” 

She credits Featherstone’s community-oriented ethos for laying the groundwork for full-circle moments, such as Meleney, Armstrong, and Petell’s Cousen Rose Gallery debut. For her, the value of Featherstone, and the courses she regularly teaches there, lies in the outlet it provides, even for the people who do not “feel like they’re artistic” or have never seen their work displayed under professional lights.

“Everybody needs diversions,” she explained. 

“Maybe it’s music or just naps; maybe it’s longer walks. We all need that opportunity to use some kind of art as a diversion to the climate that we’re living in. It’s just amazing.” 

Comments (1)

Thalia Verros
Kudos Bricque, you know I love your work. I have several of you Mr pieces in my home. Took your course and loved it. The Vineyard is fortunate to have you. You are a treasure. Thalia
June 28, 2024 - 4:57pm