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Phyllis Bramson The Good Companion
Phyllis Bramson
Reluctant Bride
Mixed media and collage on canvas, 60" x 70"
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The Wall Street Journal
September 13, 2013
Beauty and Style on the Outside, Charm Within
Gallery Exhibitions of Bill Traylor, Gene Davis and Phyllis Bramson.
By PETER PLAGENS


Phyllis Bramson (b. 1941) is something of a beloved artist in Chicago, whose arts community probably has the largest per-capita number of beloved artists of any city. It isn't hard to understand why. In a metropolis whose major postwar art style was everything-but-the-kitchen-sink Imagism (think Dr. Seuss on LSD), Ms. Bramson's pictures are influenced by 18th-century French Rococo art and paintings of Chinese "pleasure gardens"; they contain-to condense from the gallery's press release-conceits about life, miniaturized worlds and fairy tales, and speak about longing, innuendo and clichˇs.

Getting all of this into paintings of moderate size is a tall order, and to accomplish that with any sort of charm-the strong point of Ms. Bramson's art-would seem even more difficult. Oddly, it's a kind of crudity-a deliberately semiclumsy combining of Western realism, Asian fog and flatness, collage and occasional glitter-that does the trick. If Ms. Bramson's paintings were any slicker, they wouldn't look as heartfelt as they do.

Mr. Plagens is an artist and writer in New York

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Phyllis Bramson has been selected as one of the Women's Caucus for Art Lifetime Achievement Awardees for 2014. The Lifetime Achievement Awards were first presented in 1979 in President Jimmy Carter's Oval Office, to Isabel Bishop, Alice Neel, Louise Nevelson, and Georgia O'Keeffe. Other notable past honorees include Elizabeth Murray, Howardena Pindell, Suzi Gablik, Nancy Graves, Louise Bourgeois, and Lee Krasner. Past honorees have represented the full range of distinguished achievement in the visual art professions. This year's awardees are Harmony Hammond, Adrian Piper, Faith Wilding, and Phyllis Bramson.

These awards recognize the contributions made by women who have distinguished themselves by their activism and commitment to the women's movement and the arts. Selections for the Annual Honor Awards for Lifetime Achievement are among the most important actions the WCA takes to increase the recognition of women's contributions in the visual arts. An illustrated catalogue with a short biography of each awardee and an essay in tribute to each awardee's work and ideas, will accompany the award.

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“Small Personal Dilemmas” - 2013

More measured in appearance, Bramson's latest paintings interject conceits about life. Hermetic juxtapositions employing motifs, vignettes and miniaturized worlds that talk back with capricious irritability, often playing with well known fairy tales. However, the painted "stories" are more loosely based narratives, which speak about longing, innuendo and cliches.

The paintings are as much about existential disturbances (and slippage between reality and fantasy), as they are about "painterly anxiety". Stressing the idea of looking as a form of intoxication and absorption, the work employs collage interventions and strategies of the hand.
Mostly, Bramson contends: she is making paintings which percolates forth life’s imperfections, refusing to take decorum all that seriously, or to separate manners of taste from larger questions about ‘good behavior’

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Love and Affection in a Hostile World - 2012

I use images that are infused with lighthearted arbitrariness and amusing anecdotes about love and affection, in an often cold and hostile world. Mostly, I am making work that percolates forth life's imperfections: that doesn't take decorum all that seriously, refusing to separate manners of taste from larger questions about "good behavior." The paintings are reactions to all sorts of sensuous events, from the casual encounter to highly formalized exchanges of lovemaking (and everything in between). Miniaturized schemes, which meander between love, desire, pleasure and tragedy; all channeled through seasonal changes. Burlesque-like and usually theatrical incidents, that allow for both empathy and "addled" folly, while projecting capricious irritability with comic bumps along the way.

The art writer Miranda McClintoc wrote: "Phyllis Bramson's imaginative portrayals of stereotypical sexual relationships incorporate the passionate complexity of eastern mythology, the sexual innuendos of soap operas and sometimes the happy endings of cartoons." The art writer/critic Jim Yood, claims that Chicago figuration always involves figures under some sort of stress.

Of increasing importance is the challenge of the field on which the painting's narrative operates, since it is no longer a firm support for the spaces in between things. The use of luscious planes of color, layer upon layer of subtly graduated glazes, create saturated color fields onto which subjects can frolic freely. The finished works become a site for sensuous discourse pushed into a precarious state that the viewer can get lost in. Frivolous appearing, albeit often over blown concoctions all intoxicatingly enveloped in my desire to project beauty.

My "sources" remain those of Rococo and Chinoiserie of the 18th century as well as Chinese Pleasure Garden paintings and the French painters, Boucher and Fragonard. The paintings of Fragonard usually dealt with pastoral pleasures, (often hiding a secret) and immoral luxury that had elements of the political; caricatures showing the decadent frivolity of his time, when the peasant class was starving. An art historian described Fragonard's figures as always blushing and sensuous and the landscapes in which the figures dallied, as having the same attributes.

The narratives in my paintings remain incomplete, never really telling a coherent story and thus resemble abstracted tropes concerning romantic folly and loss. They are used as a repository for feelings, which often collide and intermingle between the personal and at the same time, propose a story that doesn't tell the ending. Paintings that wobble between private subjective values, social concerns and conceits, self subscribed metaphors, melancholic loss and cliche. It is the materiality, the philosophical as well as visual aspects of making a painting that drives my work.