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Brett Busang




Artistic medium: Acrylic on cotton-duck canvas, often in two or three panels. Busang also makes his own wooden frames for his paintings.

Where you can find his work: "Jackson Street: A Richmond Portfolio" runs through May 1 at Busang's gallery, Abattoir Fine Arts at 210 E. Grace St. Showings by appointment: 643-7118.

His current show: The 15 scenes in Busang's latest exhibit are all different views of the same part of Richmond — houses 18 through 22 on West Jackson Street in Jackson Ward. From this small corner of the city, which Busang discovered six years ago, come paintings so varied it's hard to believe they depict the same places. His work chronicles the quiet life of a fading neighborhood, where as the light and the seasons shift, so do the buildings themselves.

A porch he painted in slanting summer light is torn off by the time winter comes. A pile of gray rubble stands in the spot a house occupied a few months ago. Two more he once painted recently burned down. "These houses are waging a war of attrition," Busang says. "They're being carted away." His paintings, and a few old photographs, are becoming the only evidence of their existence.

Busang declines to identify with a particular artistic theory, but says critics have called it "perceptual realism." Technique is only a means to an end, he says. "I'm interested in transience. This is here," he says, pointing to the scenes he's captured on canvas, "but this [neighborhood] will fade."

Out in the neighborhood: Few bother Busang as he sets up his easel in a lot on Jackson Street and paints. The neighbors are used to him — he's there all the time, talks to the homeless men hanging out at Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church, sometimes feeds a stray dog or two. The one thing he can't stand, Busang says, is when people approach him curiously and ask, "Are you painting?" or "What are you painting?" Busang has no patience with this query. In fact, he has little patience, period. "I'm not really temperamentally suited to painting," he admits. He can't sit still for long, so paints standing up, walking forward and back, "seeing and looking."

The feeling of his work: Rubble, weedy lots and all, there is a certain romantic serenity to Busang's urban landscapes. "Where's the Maxfield Parrish girl?" he says, pointing to a painting of walls glowing in golden sunlight, while, in the shadows, a bulldozer clears a pile of tangled debris.

But he also seeks to evoke the ominous. Even in the brightest noontime landscapes, Busang conjures the flat, stifling feeling of a Richmond summer. Pointing to tenacious vines climbing the side of an old house, he explains, "You have this kind of lush, but sinister, summer foliage kind of licking its chops. 'When can we get in?'"

People often ask him why he paints what he does — the tumbled cinderblocks, abandoned houses, sprawling chain-link fences — when something else would be more likely to catch a buyer's eye. "If I'm compelled to do it, I can't shrink away from it because market forces dictate something else," Busang says.

The houses on Jackson Street bear the charm of a time past, their detailed woodwork and sturdy construction the legacy of the working-class families who lived there. But, he says, decades of neglect mean there is no turning back now. "This neighborhood, this way of life… cannot be saved." Except on canvas.

— Melissa Scott Sinclair

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