Craig Brouwer recently introduced me to the world of TROGS, the trolls Gesmine and Jasmine, whose world stretches from Putnam, Connecticut, where they were born, to their faraway planet Tile-Plex, where they plan to stay because of “all the violence and graphic nature of humans and the evil sins of people” on Earth.
When Craig talks about Gesmine and Jasmine you can tell he lives in their world with them, as well he should. He created them and has depicted their world both in books and in art.
Here’s how I came to meet Craig. His mother, Lianne Miller, called to tell us that they had just opened an in-home art gallery at their house on Woodstock Ave. in Putnam. Called Dakota Art Gallery, it exhibits all of Craig’s artwork: paintings, sculptures, woodcarvings, and mobiles. I didn’t really know what to expect, not knowing a thing about Craig Brouwer or his art, and so I went to visit.
What I walked into was the unique world created by a mind that moves seamlessly from fantasy to reality - an amazing world of imagined creatures and surreal visions. But it’s one that includes earthly flowers and animals and landscapes as well.
The gallery occupies six small rooms on the second and third floor of their unassuming house at 104 Woodstock Ave, a residential street not far from downtown Putnam. The walls in each room are filled with artwork of all sorts. Craig said he has 1500 items there in all. He’s painted many more than that; he said he’s given away a thousand pieces over the years to family, friends and charities, to people who like his work.
The first room in the gallery is where I met the TROGS, the characters Craig created to demonstrate a world of good and evil. On a table in the room was a selection of books titled T.R.O.G.S. He started writing them in 1990 and published the first book in 2004. There are now six, and he is working on numbers seven and eight. In them he examines the worlds of fantasy, psychiatry, the paranormal, religion, and science fiction. Many of the paintings in the room are based on characters in the books, created to illustrate the stories.
The books are stories about the trolls, but much more. The tales are interwoven truth and fiction and also include Craig’s personal essays on the institutional world of psychiatry, for which he has harsh words. It’s a subject he explores frequently in the books and in his art. He’s willing to say that he lives in a schizophrenic world, one with which he has a great deal of familiarity. In Book Two he writes: “some parts of the stories of the psychiatric system may have been a bit dramatic, and some people will not agree with this…..but take it or leave it, it’s the truth.“ He hopes that the people who “read it may have a better idea of what the author and some of the nine million schizophrenics in America have to deal with on a daily basis.”
He admits he hasn’t sold too many books, and perhaps the gallery will help book sales too.
Craig gave me a tour of all the rooms, and it was a great journey. Each work has a story, and knowing how it came to be or what it represents adds a layer of appreciation. I have to admit that some of the more abstract and surreal aspects of the art eluded my understanding. But, I think that many art appreciators will readily see Craig’s visions with him.
I preferred the landscapes and the flowers, the more recognizable objects. A bright yellow burst of sunflowers was my favorite. Another was a painting of a white swan, called Swan Whispering. There are paintings of harbors and oceans and historical buildings and animals among the more other-worldly things.
Craig uses all kinds of painting media and techniques: oils and acrylics, pen and ink, charcoal, collages, two- and –three dimensional images, mobiles, sculptures, chime, and woodcarvings. Prices for the works are $50 and up. But the price of one painting especially caught my eye. It was an abstract depicting a rocket launching pad and attached to it was a mock rocket made of yarn. The price tag on it was $1,000,000. It’s a statement, he said. He’s addressing the issue of nuclear attacks. And the thinking is that if someone buys this painting for $1,000,000, that’s a million dollars not spent on a nuclear attack.
Craig said he’s been painting since he was three, and while he has taken some classes in painting techniques, he is basically self-taught. Born in 1968, he went through the Putnam school system, attended QVCC and H.H. Ellis Tech. His works have been exhibited in the libraries in Putnam and Thompson and local galleries. He also has works on display at art-3000.com, an online art gallery.
I asked Craig what inspired him to do the art. “Everything,” he said. “The things around me.“ He said the paintings are “similes of my own opinion of religion and the world.” He painted them for himself, but hopes that they will entertain others as well. “I try to be a value producer, not a destroyer.”
At the moment, his muse is gone, he told us, sort of sadly. “I’m not inspired to do any more painting right now. I have to sell some.”
The gallery was born of an economical need. Reality set in. The mortgage must be paid, he said.
I’m not a professional art critic, not even an amateur. So I can’t give you a scholarly opinion of the merits of Craig’s works. You will have to see for yourself. But, I think it would be hard to come away from the Dakota Gallery without appreciating the art and artist. He will be most pleased to give a personal tour.
Gallery hours are Thursday and Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 860-963-2171 or 860-928-5520. Dakota Art Gallery is located at 104 Woodstock Ave in Putnam. CT.