Courtyard, former residence of Louis and Charlotte Hyde, Bigelow and Wadsworth, Architects, built 1912, © 1987 The Hyde Collection, Glens Falls, New York
A Loaded Brush - Nancy Brett: Recent Paintings
July 31 - September 25, 1999
I am mesmerized by the power of art. Art commands my attention and teaches me something every day. I am equally captivated by human experience, how it differs from reality and how the complexities of life render us all, in some way, helpless. It follows then that painting about emotion and character, painting that serves as a mnemonic device for a past now lost from memory, engages me more often and with more "staying power" than most other art forms. For this reason I am drawn to the work of Nancy Brett where I find the intensity and tension that reside in personal, social history operating in the paintings. These are emotions that most often exist only on the boundary of our consciousness. Our balance is easily lost. Despite that, the artist risks all as she dares us to lift the veil at the threshold of remembrance.
Nancy Brett is preoccupied with the ephemera of daily life. Her paintings are filled with symbols of the feminine: bright red nails, pretty dresses, bobby sox, pony tails, and fluff. Only on the periphery do we sometimes find a male figure lurking. The artist seduces the viewer with bright color and bold design. Like a banquet for the eye, Brett gives us good-humored polka dots, gallant plaids, and bold splashes. A critic might say she celebrates the banal in the realm of the domestic. Look again, this time more closely.
The artist invites us into the illusory world of childhood memory, the place where experience, relationships, and identity are transfigured into the grown-up. The pictures are poignant incantations of experience. Family structure, playground politics, and gender identification are without an arbitrator in these enigmatic settings. The sanctuary of home and protection becomes suspect, the pain of loss, unmediated.
Brett provokes the viewer. She exposes a world where ignorance, silence and complicity govern behavior. What will become of the faceless little girl who exposes her panties and hides her face? Or the boy-child-desperado who targets the evening news -- or, is it he going for the one reading the news? Are adults the victims of their own imaginings? To what omnipotent force, experienced or perceived, do we give over our authority? Do we willfully use our capacity for self-determination, or relinquish it for the sake of approbation? On whose account do we forge the reminiscence of pain into an unguent of desire? Using the startlingly familiar terrain of childhood, Brett presents us with fictive repetitive chronicles. She gives substance to ubiquitous life-experience through her painting. Simultaneously, she asks the viewer to reconstruct their shrouded reality.
Kathleen Monaghan, Director, The Hyde Collection, from the exhibition brochure.
Images from top to bottom: Captive, 1998, oil on canvas, 72 x 72 inches, collection of the artist; Pony Tail, 1995, oil on canvas, 73 x 70 inches, collection of Barbara Lipski; photos by Dennis Cowley
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