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Douglas Philip Bratten (American b. 1931)

From the Inner Closet, 1965, acrylic and polymer on board, 24 x 16 inches, signed and dated lower right; Exhibited at the Twenty First Juried Exhibition and Competition at the Winston-Salem Gallery of Fine Arts in October 1965 (labels verso)


About the Painting

In From the Inner Closet, we see the significant technical and stylistic influence of the artist’s artistic hero, Andrew Wyeth. Working in a narrow range of modulated earth tones, Bratten depicts an unlikely assortment of natural and manmade objects including branches, a decaying and shattered wooden board, a segmented section of bone mounted in a metal structure, leaf and tree forms growing from the background and exposing seemingly living flesh, rusted metal plates and hinges and an electric wire. Bratten’s draftsmanship is strong and his ability to depict different surfaces realistically is evident. Many of his elements draw on trompe l’oeil traditions and even presage photorealism. The foreground surfaces are smooth, while the background, bone and rusted metal are completed in low relief. In discussing this painting, Bratten recalled he had ordered new acrylic paints and polymers and began experimenting with them to create not only surface textures, but also to model in three-dimensions certain of the elements of the composition. As he ”messed around” with the textures and modeling, the images began to emerge. Bratten recounts that the resulting painting was somewhat scary and that it reminded him of a bad dream. Looking back over fifty years from today’s vantage point, Bratten’s recollection of a “bad dream” seems particularly insightful. From the Inner Closet clearly fits within the magic realist genre which quietly ran in parallel with other “isms” during the middle years of the 20th century and culminated with the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition American Realists and Magic Realists, which included eight works by Andrew Wyeth. Magic Realism often explored the inner psyche and the subconscious which sometimes expressed themselves in dreams. Formally, many magic realist compositions depicted their individual elements with great verisimilitude but taken as a whole, the disparate images depict an extraordinary and often disconcerting alternate reality. Things look as if they are real, but they clearly cannot be when seen together in context.

From the Inner Closet was well received when Bratten showed it in 1965. Gerald Nordland, the Director of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art and former Dean of the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, selected the painting for inclusion in the Twenty First Juried Exhibition and Competition at the Winston-Salem Art Gallery in October 1965. It was one of only 161 works chosen from among 696 submissions by artists living in North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Georgia. Reflecting on the exhibition, Nordland noted, “This exhibition is one of the dwindling important regional juried exhibitions surviving. . . I would like to applaud the Winston-Salem Art Gallery for its whole-hearted devotion to American art and artists and to salute the artists of this five-state region for supporting this valuable exhibition.” Bratten recalls that From the Inner Closet sold for a significant sum soon after the exhibition.

About the Artist

Douglas Philip Bratten is an award-winning artist who lived and worked in North Carolina and New Hampshire, where he now resides. Born on May 18, 1931, Bratten spent his childhood in Ohio before moving to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, at the age of fourteen when his father returned from serving as an Army doctor in the North African and European theaters of operations during World War Two. After graduating from Gray High School in Winston-Salem, Bratten served in the United States Army Signal Corps deciphering secret military communications. From 1952 through 1954, Bratten was stationed in Kyushu, Japan, where he met his wife, Toshie Sato, who was originally from the area around Nagoya. Bratten recalls his time in Japan fondly as one of the best military postings he could have imagined. After his discharge from the Army, Bratten used the GI Bill to enroll in the Engineering and Physics program as North Carolina State University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1960.

Bratten recalls painting and drawing from the time he was a child, though he never received formal art school training. Soon after graduating from North Carolina State University, Bratten began to paint more seriously. As with all things in his life, Bratten took a careful, methodical approach to his art. He took inspiration from Andrew Wyeth, particularly his landscape paintings. Unlike Wyeth, however, Bratten worked primarily in acrylic and acrylic polymer, which were gaining acceptance by fine artists during the early 1960s. By 1964, Bratten had gallery representation, and his works were accepted to juried exhibitions at the Winston-Salem Gallery of Fine Arts and other institutions in North Carolina. Bratten recalls that he was able to sell his paintings for significant amounts which helped supplement his income working as an engineer. Bratten’s artistic output diminished as the late 1960s progressed, particularly after he moved to New Hampshire to work for a military defense contractor. After the end of the Vietnam conflict, Bratten left the engineering profession and returned to making art on a more consistent basis. During the 1970s, he began to make highly textured works in acrylic that he calls “tactiles” which keyed into the prevailing “hippy” aesthetics of the day. Bratten recalls selling these works at art fairs and to “head shops.” During the late 1990s and early 2000s Bratten turned his attention to photography where he focused on portraying the natural beauty of New Hampshire during the winter as he specialized in what he calls “ice photography.” Bratten still lives in New Hampshire. Although he no longer paints, his daughter, Carolyn Boutwell, continues the family’s artistic heritage as a sculptor in Nashville, and Bratten’s son, Eric, was also a fine draftsman and painter. Douglas Bratten is listed in the North Carolina Visual Arts and Artists Collection, an archive related to artists of North Carolina started by Claude Howell, the founder and long-time head of the Art Department at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and one of North Carolina’s most important 20th century modernists.

Sources: Telephone Interview with Douglas Philip Bratten, May 30, 2022;;; North Carolina Visual Arts and Artists Collection


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