Drawing from the past


Artist Allen Brewer takes old pieces of paper he finds and uses them as a canvas for his drawings.

Where most people see trash, Allen Brewer sees treasure. While others around him dig recklessly through piles of notebooks at an estate sale, Brewer will handle faded pages gently, seeing in them both the mystery of a past life, and the potential for a bright future.

The appeal of the found objects comes from the uniqueness of each piece. I’m drawn to objects that are one of a kind, old looking, and contain a certain spiritual energy that is difficult to explain. I am a very sentimental person, and have been attracted to objects owned by others since a young age. To me, the energy bestowed upon the life of the papers or objects inspires me to make something powerful to honor that energy.


Artist Allen Brewer stands in front an installation of his work at the Burnett Gallery in Chambers Hotel in Minneapolis. All of the frames shown here were purchased second hand and repainted by the artist.

These found papers become the canvases for Brewer’s drawings, which are selected from images in old magazines. Brewer says he chooses images based on his own memories of his youth.

The images usually come first, and then I spend a lot of time trying to find a tangential word or chopped up phrase that could describe the intangible feeling of the moment, while also offering an entry point for the viewer. If the paper I find already has text, then I must comb through pages of archived photos until I find the appropriate image that says exactly what i want it to say, regarding my memory. The memories themselves include topics like death, spiritual epiphanies, and self-realization.

Brewer says he’s exploring not just his memories, but their fallability. He says he’s interested in the indescribable moments of uncertainty when we try to find an association between a word or an image and a memory. Is there a connection, or do we just convince ourselves there is one? And while we each see the same image, our individual associations may be completely different.


In Brewer’s show at Chambers Hotel in Minneapolis – which opens tonight – he’s installed a school desk and bulletin board adorned in images, along with the originals he pulled from various magazines. Brewer draws over the images with a bamboo stick, imprinting their image onto the canvas beneath using carbon paper. The accuracy with which he transfers the image is startling.


Brewer creates rules for himself for each series of work he creates – in one series, he had to choose a word on the same page as the image he’d found. He says the rules come from his own competitive streak:

I like to challenge myself with everything I do. The restrictions with the colored pencil drawings force me to work with only the limited contents of each photograph. The word I appropriate to the image must exist somewhere near the photograph, in order to refer to it, while also providing new context for the viewer. I feel that my work gets more dangerous and interesting when I put limitations on how I draw.


Allen Brewer’s “to have died”

Over 80 drawings by Allen Brewer are on display in the show “if not it, then what?” which opens tonight at Chambers Le Meridian Hotel with a reception from 6 to 9pm. The show runs through May 9.