Now 91, Nick Brigante has been something of a neglected figure among old school California modernists. His idiosyncratic application of ancient Chinese watercolor techniques to the misty landscapes of the Pasadena area has tended perhaps to portray him as a quirky romantic pluralist, clearly anomalous alongside the formal purism of say, Lorser Feitelson or Helen Lundeberg. A 50-year retrospective helps us to reevaluate this view, offering Brigante as a latent abstractionist all along, evidenced by his early disavowal of the figure and subsequent transformation of clearly defined topography into limpid washes and amorphous clouds of color.
Brigante was born in Italy in 1895 and came to Los Angeles at the age of 2. Under the influence of his mentor, Rex Slinkard, Brigante adapted his early interest in Chinese watercolors and philosophy into more contemporary, and specifically abstract, aesthetics. This led to a series of Arroyo Seco studies, in which rocks, sycamores and misty gullies gradually evolved into formal color experiments, dominated by the deep purples, oranges and reds of the Sung masters. The culmination of this period was Brigante's epic, nine-panel "Nature and Struggling Imperious Man," (1937) a heroic paean to human endeavor that somehow manages to fuse historical narrative tradition with an allegorical mysticism reminiscent of William Blake.