Bret Shirley



Music for evenings
, 14 x 11 in, $1,400

The most stumblingest of phrases,
20 x 16 in, $2,000

Deeply Poisoned by the Exhibition
48 x 36 in, $4,500

Floating through the psychedelic swamp
14 x 11 in, $1,400


When walking through a museum, I often find myself as intrigued by the systems of categorization and definition and resulting methods of display and storytelling as I am by the art and artifacts on view. These systems not only define the role and value of objects, but lead us, the viewers, on a pre-destined path to affirm those roles all the while allowing us to revel in a sense of discovery and self-controlled journey. Didactic placards inform us that the pre-Colombian Mesoamerican animal shaped vessel is more artifact than art, that through its institutional definition as such it holds less significance and value as Breugel’s Tower of Babel.

These notions are heavily influential and visually present in my current work. Silhouettes of simple shapes, drawn from Mesoamerican pottery, European master works, and many more sources are rendered in deep hues with often barely perceptible changes in color through a shape. Custom framing of the paintings is integral, as way to force as much of my will as an artist on the viewer. When a frame ceases to act merely as a vessel and becomes an active part of the artwork, one is forced to view it as such. The use of linen and metal leaf both have roots and in the canon of classical painting, though here are used more like display furniture, the linen backdrop, and gilded mounts in a purely museal presentation.


Bret Shirley was born in San Jose, CA in 1980 and currently lives and works in Brooklyn NY. He received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn in 2004. His work has been shown nationally and internationally and is numerous private and public collections, including Texas A&M University, The Huntington Library and Gardens and MD Anderson Cancer Center. Recent exhibitions include shows at IRL in New York City, Cardoza in Houston TX, Peripheral Space in Los Angeles and Point of Contact Gallery at Syracuse University. From 2018-2021 Shirley ran the gallery space and studio program BS in Houston TX, which during its run hosted nearly a dozen artists for subsidized studio space and programmed twelve exhibitions before closing during the covid-19 pandemic.

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