Don Brackett channels a strong, silent energy into his paintings, which have qualities of stillness and timelessness reminiscent of classicism, whether they portray an adobe church in an autumnal, high-mountain landscape or Pueblo Indians on horseback, poised on the edge of a deep river gorge. He still works in plein air occasionally, but primarily paints from credit-card sized sketches, which are done with the edge of a Sharpie marker. He has many books full of these sketches. "I get creative ideas while I'm sketching," he said. "I can move mountains, trees, houses, with one stroke of the pen. Nature doesn't always provide a pleasing composition so I can dramatize a scene with light changes, storm clouds, add people, or snow in the mountains." He enjoys making a scene his own. "I am not simply a reporter, most anyone can do that," he explained. "I strive for good composition, organizing shapes, values and light. That is so much more exciting and makes for a better looking painting."
By dramatizing or simplifying a scene, exaggerating shapes and colors, and moving elements that don't add to the subject, he is getting at its spirit, Don said. "We paint color relationships and good shapes — not 'things." We consider ourselves modern-day impressionists." That may be another way of saying that Don has that quality unique to an expert painter of knowing when to stop. That is, he provides enough detail to trigger the imagination, rather than attempting an exhaustive reproduction of a scene. He trusts viewers to resolve artful strokes and sometimes startling colors into human figures or natural elements, a subtly exciting and unexpected approach that engages the viewer.
He has gained a wealth of information from painting on location for more than 40 years, primarily in his home state of New Mexico. Don has painted around the world, but in his view "there's no place like New Mexico to paint." He and his wife, painter P.J. Garoutte, have had some exciting experiences during their many years of plein air painting. They have been shot at, cussed at, had things thrown at them and been threatened. Their "paintmobile" van protected them not only from the elements, but also from unexpected incidents. "Now we depend on our memories of many years painting, a storehouse of good sketches, plus a wealth of information gained over decades of observing," said Don.
Artistic curiosity leads him to explore a variety of techniques. His paintings may start as abstracts and evolve into figurative works as he enlarges upon inspiring shapes. Often he works traditionally by drawing a painting, laying it out, and working thin washes to thick layers. Sometimes he utilizes a palette knife, applying paint with thick direct strokes. Like, P.J., Don was first an award-winning watercolorist, but switched to oils for their tactile sensation. He adapted quickly to the thickness of oils, so different from watercolor's light flow, allowing him to develop a painting with more textural features, and a more determined outcome." A Taos painter himself, Don admires the work of Taos's early twentieth century Russian artists Nicolai Fechin and Leon Gaspard. Like Nicolai Fechin, Don often uses unpredictable color combinations that tease the eye into a coelesced completion. "After following an art career since early childhood, with all the determination and struggles," says Don, "It takes a real love for what you are doing. Plus, I realize that I didn't choose this occupation, it chose me and I would do it all over again."
—Dory Hulburt, 2013