National Academy of Sciences, Washington DC, 2002

"Uncertain Balance: Landscapes by Prilla Smith Brackett 1995–2002"

by JANIS TOMLINSON, Director, Exhibitions & Cultural Programs

Ranging in subject from old growth forests in New England to panoramas of Tanzania, Prilla Smith Brackett’s landscapes attest to her ongoing engagement with environmental issues.

The artist’s Remnants series (1995-1998) encompasses four groups of paintings: Old Growth in the White Mountains, Big Reed Reserve, Communion, and Silent Striving. Like sepia-toned photographs, large, monochromatic drawings of old growth forests might suggest a quiet and long-forgotten place, were it not for the fragments veiling the landscape. This interruption of the viewer’s experience of nature becomes more apparent in the large paintings of the communion series, where fragments drained of color are superimposed on the otherwise pristine view and the urban intrudes upon the natural.

Fragmentation leads to the analytic dissection of the natural and the urban in the Silent Striving series. Vignettes of nature and trees are captured in separate panels. Visual echoes suggest that all the images have a common origin, that urban was once pristine, as the juxtapositions bring home the human impact on the environment.

Brackett’s most recent work are triptychs expressing a more peaceful co-existence of the human and the natural. The side images were inspired by views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the central images by scenes around Brackett’s home in Cambridge, Mass. The sense of decay and forceful intrusion – so visible in the earlier Remnants series – is no longer apparent, as the very simple architecture of the urban environment enhances the dignity and intricate beauty of trees.

At the outset of the nineteenth century, the German painter Caspar David Friedrich painted masterful portraits of trees, seemingly imbuing them with a personality. Brackett’s trees have a similar strength, her landscapes a comforting serenity. Although her theme is human intervention, we get the sense that nature will withstand many indignities, offering us time to rethink the repercussions of our actions.


©2002 Janis Tomlinson