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
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.
“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’
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 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
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.