Made in the Dark
There is both a reassuring sanctitude and unsettling mysteriousness in the composition of Make Believe, one of Coady Brown’s dozen new paintings in her exhibition “Made in the Dark”, the artist’s first international solo exhibition on view at Stems Gallery from April 22 through May 22, 2021. Brown is a virtuosic figurative painter with a penchant for intricate patterns, vivid color, and a consummate expertise in drawing out heightened psychological and emotional states in her compositions.
The paintings in “Made in the Dark” continue the artist’s exploration of the figure as her primary subject and vehicle for expressing nuanced and poetic emotional states representative of our embodied internal landscape. Brown leaves it up to us to imagine what the figures in the painting Make Believe are observing, but the painting is imbued with a palpable sense of anxiety. Expressed through the frontal figure’s blouse checked in deep teal and highlighter yellow, the pattern is pulsing, ebbing, and flowing across the body in a surreal manner. This is arguably closer to symbolizing our emotional states, particularly over the last year as we’ve all navigated a new world in which so many truths have unraveled and what comes next is left to be determined. Painted in oil, Brown’s palette is succulent and seductive in its opulence, the richness of the colors and juxtaposition of lurid neons with sumptuous jewel tones adds to the exaggeration of the figures’ forms and overall sense of a heightened state of being–a state exemplary of the paranoia of navigating the world as we now know it.
There is a cinematic quality to Brown’s compositions–usually inspired from observing friends, lovers, and strangers interacting, and in this case primarily from memory–that exudes a theatrical aspect unto what may typically be considered benign scenes of daily life. In Periphery, a figure hangs in the threshold of a doorway, either being pulled in or pushed out, the figures all look downcast and appear nearly ghost-like in their lack of eye contact. The brightness of the interior contrasts with the darkness of the exterior street and adds to a charged sensation of precariousness as one determines where the figure is headed. The symbolism of the threshold holds a new meaning at a time when leaving one’s home feels like entering an invisible present threat, and the tension of the figure hovering in the open doorway exhibits the stasis of life in perpetual lockdown, feeling frozen by fear or stuck in place. Similarly, touch is threaded throughout the paintings as a seemingly sinister focal point. Brown’s keen sense for sharply cropped tableaus adds to the disequilibrium of the scenes she paints, creating an environment where such familiar gestures as in caressing one’s hair (Chance), fingers stroking a forehead (Undoing), or poking a friend (Bully) can read as both loving gestures of intimacy or a moment of tension before a vicious act. Also peppered throughout the paintings is a second double entendre of floral motifs–presented in different forms: clothing pattern (Bloom), stained glass design (Reminisce), and floral arrangement (Bouquet) –that exhibit an otherworldly signifier in their representations. Both commonplace and abnormal, floral motifs in clothing patterns, decor, and as still life, flowers act as an omnipresent reminder of their many symbolic meanings: love, hope, loss, rebirth. Brown’s representation of flowers are equally exaggerated to convey their potent emotional qualities and draw attention to the multitude of meanings in an otherwise ordinary object that holds a connotation of femininity falsely equated with fragility and here represented as full of vitality and potency laden with catharsis. It is the cathartic aspects of Brown’s paintings that illuminate the aesthetics of the everyday and underscore the emotional landscape that is the foundation of the human experience.
Text by Olivia Gauthier