By Lori Waxman, 2016
Longtime Chicagoan and veteran art professor Phyllis Bramson has a career retrospective up this summer at the Cultural Center. "Under the Pleasure Dome" is a glorious whirlwind of excess, kitsch and desire in the form of three decades' worth of paintings and assemblages.
It's also filled with the artworks I think I would make if instead of being an art critic I were an artist. That's leaving out such significant factors as talent, luck and longevity, not to mention training, influence and ambition, but all the same, my personal affinity for Bramson's extravagant productions runs uncannily deep.
What do they look like? "The Perfumed Garden (Loss of Happiness)" has a bit of everything, like a smorgasbord. A pair of 4-foot-tall stone bodhisattvas face each other, dressed up with red lipstick and magenta spray paint, lightly dusted with glitter, small figurines of hummingbirds and naked babies and big-eyed deer perched on their shoulders and at their feet. Between them runs a scroll of fringed paisley brocade, Chinese pagodas, mute cartoon heads, lush peacocks, a geisha speaking a blank word bubble amid blossoming cherry branches, the Japanese master printmaker Hiroshige's famous view of Mt. Fuji, diagrams of Buddha hand positions and Chinese courtesans flirting in a forest. Some of it is cut from mass-produced art, some found in thrift shops, some painted or drawn from scratch, some all of the above.
Purists, minimalists and prudes beware. Bramson is a maximalist of materials and cultures, from the rococo paintings of Fragonard to the happy buddhas of Chinese restaurants and the plaster gnomes of tacky gardens. Via techniques of bricolage, she escorts these interracial, high-low, anachronistic members into delicately comedic menages that seem to have as their main principle the act of saying yes. Yes to clown mouths and frilly collars, yes to dangly plastic beads, yes to paint-by-numbers, yes to needle-point, yes to pearl necklaces and bubbles and grapes, yes to bare bottoms, yes to oval and square and hexagonal and circular frames, yes to metal branches with fake flowers. Yes, that's all one painting. It's called "Little Goody Two Shoes" and Bramson pieced it together in 1996. Saying yes is different than not saying no. An artist who collages such a vast diversity of elements into a single whole has left just as many on the studio floor. There's evidence, too, that Bramson took some time to find her way to her current position of the-more-the-merrier. The earliest work in the show, a great big jazzy painting from 1987 of a threesome clinging to sinking masts amid a tumultuous sea, is relatively straightforward: single scene, oil on canvas, no frame. (The erotic narrative is plain to see, too.)
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Works on Paper
October 20, 2015, by Ginny Van Alyea
I took a weekend trip to Rockford recently, to visit family and to see the new Phyllis Bramson Retrospective at the Rockford Art Museum. My family had quite an adventure exploring the area, including the beautiful and serene Anderson Japanese Gardens, and making it out to the museum for this show really was a treat for all.
Phyllis Bramson is well-known in the Chicago art community (and beyond) as she has been producing her distinctive work for decades. Seeing so many of her large paintings and unique constructions together in the elegant RAM space was a rare experience, and an enlightening one. The museum's main exhibition space, devoted to Bramson's work for Phyllis Bramson: In Praise of Folly – A Retrospective, 1985–2015, was larger than I expected, and the dark gray walls showed Bramson's paintings well, highlighting her bold use of color and the varied use of found materials.
The works in the show are from the second half of Bramson's career and they demonstrate her signature use of imagery - female images, Asian references and environments, and plenty of eroticisim and surreal scenes. The viewer takes a different trip with each work of art, following Bramson's use of collage, saturated colors, fantastic landscapes and juxtaposed childhood and fairytale references.
Bramson's sculptures, or scroll drawings, incorporate ceramic figures and teapots with more found materials and often Asian emboridery, as well as delicate paper materials. The images applied to the scrolls that bellow from below the teapots and characters lead viewers into another immersive experience. I wanted to know more about what each piece meant and what stories were told from one work to the next. My two year old daughter desperately wanted to touch each piece and have a tea party... For both of us Bramson's work is a complete experience that asks more questions than can be answered.
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.
Love and Affection in a Hostile World, Phyllis Bramson, 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 Wall Street Journal: Beauty and Style on the Outside, Charm Within
Gallery Exhibitions of Bill Traylor, Gene Davis and Phyllis Bramson.
September 13, 2013, 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 clichŽs.
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.
University of St. Francis
Phyllis Bramson - Affectionate Arbitrary Anecdotes | The COMP Magazine
Phyllis Bramson's oeuvre addresses sexuality, gender issues and stereotypes of "good behavior" in complex narrative-based mythologies layed out upon canvas. - Thecompmagazine.com
“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’