BRANDI TWILLEY | WHERE THE FIRE STARTED
Brandi Twilley’s new paintings are currently hanging at Sargent’s Daughters in a show called Where the Fire Started. Layered with meaning, Twilley takes us back to the dilapidated house that was her childhood home in Oklahoma. Unlike Tom Burr’s show in the Pirelli Building, where a derelict building takes on a sort of hard-edged, sterile, and modernist charm (construction crews swept away all the dead birds long before visitors were allowed inside) Twilley emphasizes that very thing: the gritty, greasy reality of impoverished living. There are signs here of true, biological decay, even putrefaction. The story behind the painting Cat in the Roof is especially telling, both of Twilley’s content and her childhood. Consider how Sargent’s press release frames the work:
“In the bedroom paintings we are immersed in the atmosphere of the house’s decay in the year preceding the fire. The roof is dilapidated and rain soaks the room. A blue plastic tarp, which Twilley slept under during heavy storms, is crumpled on the bed. In “Cat in the Roof,” blood drips down the wall, catching on the warped curves of the paneling above the fireplace. A stray cat and her kittens had been living in the roof above the fireplace and had died, causing maggots to rain down into the fire. In “Plane Crash Survivors” we see, tacked up on the wall, one of Twilley’s first paintings, inspired by a dream of survivors of a plane crash helping each other to reassemble severed body parts. Twilley drew herself standing in front of her bedroom mirror to make studies for the figures and used National Geographics as a reference for the landscape. Picasso’s Blue Period painting ‘La Vie’ was her color reference.”
These are the two most interesting thing about the show, in my mind. First, the power and courage that Twilley has mustered to access such a trauma has paid great dividends. The works have a kind of visceral aliveness—it’s as if they pique all the senses, from the scent of rotting felines and incinerated maggots, to the choke of soot, to the chill of a cold, wet night.
Second, Twilley’s art books are marvelous, and speak to the title’s double-edged meaning. This was also where the metaphorical fire started for Twilley’s painterly practice. That she would cathect so strongly to an art history book about Picasso, and another about Titian, is fascinating. We also see the remnants of those old-masters-cum-old-friends in her style. Twilley can powerfully build up and blend her oil paints like that great Italian, and her works have a quality of light and color that seem to betoken the larger Venetian tradition out of which Titian emerged. The same could be said of Picasso, especially his pre-cubist works, where melancholic bodies fill hazy, pastel-hued interiors.