It starts out simply enough: a banal collage of stock image skies fills a digital screen. An eagle-eyed viewer might notice the texture and correctly deduce this is a video of canvas. Within seconds though, the meditative cloudscape suffers its first intrusion: a purposeful, precise slice, carved from behind. The slit becomes shape; and pushed forward by gravity, becomes gap. An alarming, muppet-like creature peaks out, pokes about, then continues a roughly half hour dissection of the cloud-printed canvas: viewer, meet Brian Bress.
Currently hanging on the wall of apartment 30.03, Cloud Clouds, 2019, is a video work from the sculptor-director-painter-performer’s slicer series, which sees Bress combining his talents to disrupt and disturb the viewer’s expectations of painting. In a multi-layered process, Bress prints onto canvas and draws on the reverse. He then crafts a costume from like motifs; standing behind the canvas, the camouflaged Bress slices through the surface, the cut flopping forward to reveal both a drawing and a surreal glimpse of the suited-up artist. The video screen is itself set within a wooden painting frame. Clearly, the series serves as a critique and exploration of painting and its limitations. Practically speaking, the painting is not destroyed so much as transformed, consumed as fuel in this instance of performance-as-alchemy.
The Los Angeles-based Bress studied ceramics then animation and film making before gaining his Master’s in painting. In his Slicer works, he might be understood as an artist who captures paint with video, or a filmmaker whose love object is painting itself. Bress cannot see out of his masked costume, so the communion between the artist and painting – and by proxy, the viewer as voyeur - is one of trust and intimacy. We are privy to a poignant behind-the-scenes performance not entirely for us: the painter at work as a process is not typically spectator-welcome.
In his Drawers series, Bress costumes himself as various professionals - rabbi, doctor, chef; facing us, he draws from memory on a glass surface, a stand in for the camera lens itself. In discussing this series, Bress referred to those moments in childhood when his buddies would gather around and make requests for the draughtsman to conjure. In both slicers and drawers, Bress reminds us of a time when art making was a communal event. Together with his Henson-esque puppetry, there is an overall playfulness to the work which disarms even the most adamant of art traditionalists. Those who consider themselves too timid to live with video work are often surprised by how mesmerised and contemplative they become before these subtle performances. The average time a spectator spends looking at a painting has been estimated at 27.2 seconds. The Mona Lisa gets 15. Not so with Bress’s works. The stillness of the surface and the silent, diligent worker-muppet together produce an uncanny effect that can easily captivate for its 24-minute runtime.
It would appear Bress is onto something.
Arianna Nourse is a curator and art provider based in London. Her work with Southbank Tower included the curation of the eclectic art collection which presides in the ‘Furnished by Armani/Casa’ apartments. A bespoke and tailored apartment which produces a beguiling luxury living experience. A small selection of apartments are currently available for sale or rent.
Courtesy the artist and Josh Lilley, London