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Bad Math with Good Results: Brooke Stewart’s Solo Presentation at Boston Center for the Arts

Brooke Stewart at the opening of her solo exhibition, “BAD MATH,” 2023. Photo by Chiara Kung. Courtesy of Boston Center for the Arts.

The precarity of life as an artist plus the cost of living crisis shouldn’t add up to the vibrant community of artists and makers in Boston, but somehow the math works, and that is what Brooke Stewart captures with the works in her solo show at Mills Gallery, “BAD MATH.” Curated by Liz Morlock, the exhibition is part of the Mills Gallery’s 1:1 Exhibition Series, which pairs artists and curators for intimate and playful presentations. Here, the walls are lined with bold yet delicate prints—woodcuts printed on handmade and hand-stitched paper that flutter and move with the slightest breeze. Because of the cuts in the paper, layered pieces are left loose to move and sway, animating these images, all portraits of artists and makers from Boston who are in some way connected to Stewart and her practice.

But this is not the only sign of life in the gallery. At the opening event on April 29, we saw George Amaral, a self-taught artist and master hairdresser, standing next to his print. Across from him is Mackenzie Britt, an artist from Somerville who also works as a florist. On the night of the opening, he brought with him a bouquet that resembles the one depicted in Stewart’s print, bringing yet another dimension to the space. The artist and her family were present, too—in a self-portrait and a portrait of her mother—shown in a series of etchings that expose the process of artmaking and working the copper plate. The artist’s process is also on view in a video loop that shows her at work. But this is not the lone artist in her studio, a team is there with her, surrounding her, much like the artistic community surrounds the viewer in the exhibition.

(left) Brooke Stewart, Mackenzie, 2023. Woodblock print, handmade paper with embroidery floss and thread. 40″ x 33″. (right) Brooke Stewart, Carving Out Self, 2023. Woodbock print, handmade paper of artist’s wood shavings and thread. 72″ x 72″. Courtesy of the artist and Boston Center for the Arts.

There are also a few delightful Easter eggs in the gallery reminding us of the artist as a person, including a painting of her summer studio sandals and also her running shoes—maybe the pair she wore when she completed the Boston Marathon a few weeks before her show opened. So even though the math of a financial crisis and precarious existence might not add up, Stewart has clearly found the right formula for creating a community connected by art—and love—in this exhibition.

Brooke Stewart, Mom in the Green Jacket, 2023. Installation View, “BAD MATH,” 2023. Photo by Chiara Kung. Courtesy of Boston Center for the Arts.

“Brooke Stewart: BAD MATH” is on view at Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts through July 29, 2023.

Amy Bryzgel is a teaching professor at Northeastern University in the Department of Art + Design, College of Arts, Media and Design. Her research is focused on contemporary art from Eastern Europe, with a focus on performance art. She is the author of three books, including Performance Art in Eastern Europe since 1960, published by Manchester University Press in 2017.