Brett Bigbee (American, b. 1954) spent much of his career creating painstakingly detailed portraits characterized by a sense of tranquil intimacy, abundant symbolism, and a near photo-realist level of precision. His subjects were mostly his family members, as these meticulous works took several years to complete, and were heavily based on extended periods of observation. He generally spent an equal amount of time creating the graphite studies which accompany the paintings, producing two complete works. The vivid faces of Bigbee’s portraiture are often both haunting and meditative, conveying a sense of realism and individual spirit which reveals Bigbee’s personal relationship with his subjects, while also utilizing broader symbols which can be more universally read by the viewer.
Departing from portraiture, Bigbee’s recent work delves into investigations of complex allegorical imagery. Focusing on somewhat recognizable yet otherworldly creatures and scenes, it has been compared to “magical realism” in fiction. This highly exploratory work marks the start of a new era--in the artist’s own words:
“In the past, my paintings took years to complete. I sought to create works that required exactitude and adhered to the disciplines devised by artists throughout history. These works are contemplative and bring great meaning to me. However, my life did not follow a predictable path, and my new paintings started to reflect my internal and external conflicts. As a result, where I once almost froze each moment in silence, I began to reveal the forces that shape us all. So here in these first paintings I explore a path toward freedom as a visual storyteller.”
Originally from Jacksonville, North Carolina, Bigbee studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He received a Fulbright grant to travel and study in Italy following his graduation in 1985, and the influence of the Renaissance works he studied there is evident throughout his oeuvre.