Sex, wars and landscapes of the brain: Brent Dedas explores three common themes throughout art

Brent Dedas has been thinking about sex a lot lately. OK, not just sex, but war and the landscape as well. The thought process behind his current exhibition at the Louisville Visual Art Association has evolved since his graduate school days, years of filling up notebooks with ideas and observations. Multiple trips to European museums fueled the fire, and finally, a couple of years ago, he was ready to create drawings based on his notebook concepts.

What was he seeing that started it all? He’s analyzed art history in a unique way, realizing that the bulk of the artwork produced over the centuries has been about sex/sensuality, war/violence and landscapes/cityscapes. “I’m interested in the three things and how they tie together,” he told LEO by phone from his new home in Toledo, Ohio. “I wanted to do something that’s a bit different from the typical art show, that’s very narrow in topic. I wanted to come up against a challenge.”

He found that challenge. His vision produced works full of dark voids — his reference to landscape scarred by acts of violence. His surfaces are so pitted they might as well be the surface of the moon. They’re coupled with the lighthearted touches that human nature produces in rough times: 1930s-’40s girly pin-ups (thank you Betty Grable) and “nose art” from World War II airplanes.

“Bombshell #2” is an acrylic on canvas, brick chips and silver aluminum painting with an outline of a pin-up superimposed over the holes. “Pitfalls,” created from the same media, places silhouettes of two medics carrying a wounded soldier over the rough terrain.

The brick chips on many of his pieces have multiple meanings, he said. “Bricks are all about construction; the broken bricks are fragments of something that’s been destroyed. My dad is a construction worker, so I grew up on construction sites. That has influenced how I feel about construction and destruction.”   

The title of the show references not only the makeup of human nature but also to the process Dedas uses to produce his art. For “Our Chemistry,” a large beautiful triptych of gold and silver, he threw acid at a steel panel and waited for the immediate reaction. “I like the fact that through the destruction, you’re creating something new,” he said. “There’s an element of control, but I don’t know exactly (what will happen). I like to make room for the accidents.” He also uses very thin aluminum leaf, similar to the more familiar gold leaf, to add more dimension. 

Dedas’ use of chemicals to form his color palette and shapes is difficult and brave. Calling him a painter leaves a lot unsaid. He’s actually a mad scientist posing as an artist. Luckily for him and for us, it succeeds beautifully.

LVAA also presents DinnerWorks, now in its 21st year. Handcrafted dinnerware by national artists are placed in decorative table settings by designers. Louisville glass artists Peter Eichhorn and Sarah Tucker created square curved glass plates. The table decorations, created by Jason Jennings, are relatively simple and refined, even with the elaborate birdcage used as the centerpiece. The overall elegance is enhanced by the potted orchids.

Mississippi studio potter Conner Burns and designer Rick Kremer took an opposite approach and put together a table setting dedicated to the homeless. The point is further driven “home” by the fact that the table is placed inside a large cardboard box. Burns’ organic ceramics are accompanied by plastic cups and various glasses — the only things missing are jelly jars. Kremer, an architect with the Louis & Henry Group, will be the speaker for LVAA’s “Food for Thought” lecture series on Feb. 12.

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• ‘Our Chemistry: Sex, War and the    
   Landscape’ by Brent Dedas
Through March 2

• ‘DinnerWorks’
Through March 1
Louisville Visual Art Association
Water Tower
3005 River Road

Dinnerworks special events:
•AfterDinnerWorks cocktail celebration: Friday, Feb. 8, 6-9 p.m., $30 ($25 members).
•DinnerWorks Brunch: Sunday, March 2, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., $30/$25.
•Raffle: The drawing for a porcelain bowl by Michael Weisner: Sunday, March 2, during the DinnerWorks Brunch, $10.