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Art review: Hilary Brace at Craig Krull

June 18, 2010 |  3:25 pm

400.Brace_05_300_lat There’s a rapturous virtuosity to Hilary Brace’s 20 small charcoal drawings at Craig Krull. Created by subtraction — Brace covers sheets of vellum with charcoal and then “draws” with an eraser — her fantastical cloudscapes look untouched by human hands. This unearthly quality is reinforced by the images’ intimate scale: most are under 8 x 10 inches and some are downright tiny at less than 4 inches in either dimension. With their impossibly smooth surfaces, they could be photogravures if they weren’t so impossibly surreal.

200.Brace_04_300_lat For despite the realism of their chiaroscuro light effects, Brace’s images are stream-of-consciousness inventions, created without premeditation or sketches. The predominant cloud-like forms morph seamlessly into rocks, water, mist and ice floes, suggesting natural transformative processes as well as the endless plasticity of drawing, a space where things easily become other things. The resulting landscapes verge in some cases on abstraction; in others, they conjure the atmospherics of J.M.W. Turner or obliquely, the ecstatic light of William Blake.

Occasionally, they evoke kitschy fantasy illustrations so that one expects to see Pegasus or perhaps Golem emerging from clouds or caverns. But eventually they become a bit monotonous. While the permutations of Brace’s technique seem limitless, it may be something of a dead end. Again and again, her works attest to the complex mysteries of intuition and imagination, but with each iteration, the wonder they inspire grows a bit dimmer.

– Sharon Mizota

Craig Krull Gallery, 2525 Michigan Ave. B-3, Santa Monica, (310) 828-6410, through July 10. Closed Sundays and Mondays. www.craigkrullgallery.com

Images: Both are untitled. Courtesy of Craig Krull Gallery.

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It’s paradoxical to cite Turner and Blake while simultaneously praising Brace for her “rapturous virtuosity” and condemning her for being monotonous and courting kitsch. After all, in his search to express the “complex mysteries of intuition and imagination,” Turner deployed his own rapturous virtuosity on what was basically the same subject matter over and over again (a charge that, to cite an early example of an artist who attempted to capture a complex mystery through subtle iterations, one might level at Bellini for all of those Madonna and Child variations, and so on throughout the history of art—how many versions of Ocean Park did Diebenkorn really need to paint?). As for the charge of evoking kitsch, it’s of course nonrefutable—it relies wholly on the sensibility of the observer to find a work sentimental and cheap. Mizota looks at Blake and finds an “ecstatic light” where I find ludicrous adolescent faux profundity. Similarly, if the critic finds the present drawings monotonous, there’s no arguing with her perceptions, but it serves no purpose to cloak them in a language that’s ill fitted to transforming her subjective reaction into something to which the rest of us should be expected to assent.
Rather than monotonous, I see Brace as an obsessive explorer returning to territory she intuits has secrets to reveal if only she could get at them—which in fact is what connects her to Turner and other searchers of the sublime. As some have noted, the line between the sublime and kitsch can be thin, but to this beholder at least, Brace has kept well to the side of rapture and wonder.


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