BEN MEDINA '19
Phyllis Bramson paints fervid, salaciously funny neon fantasies which employ a nonsensical logic of desire to audaciously clang together what seems like the whole of Eastern and Western visual culture, all at the same time and in the same image. These weird dreams are anchored by their own persistent and unflagging sweetness, and Bramson’s absolute formal and art historical mastery. Her work affirms the pleasures of imagination and of looking. Method magazine interviewed her about her work.
Could you discuss your early art education, how you first came to studio work and the idea of working as an artist?
I always took art classes, making art from an early age as my parents encouraged me. They even set up a little studio in what we called “the sun room” that was on the first floor of our home. In high school during the summer, when I was around a Junior, I started taking the art classes that were offered at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. In grade school and high school, art courses ... thankfully were always available.
Could you discuss your thoughts on the interrelations of the following— the notion of beauty in art, pleasure as a component of art, “good taste” in art, and vulgarity?
Thoughts: Beauty and vulgarity or inappropriateness are the two things I think about the most. Good taste can mean so many different things that its hard to factor in, because all I can think about in a good painting is if the pieces of art I am looking at significant or interesting. This kind of looking makes me nervous because I want to be equally as strong and interesting as the works I am looking at. I just had that experience when I went to New York for an opening of my exhibition. I saw some major shows that I have no words to describe except they were incredible and made a major statement. I believe good taste is a silly word in relation to art, but I also realize it can be used either as a weapon or a compliment. If I say I don’t believe in good taste it really means I don’t believe in discretion or watchfulness, I would rather be the opposite, difficult, silly, and not easily ignored.
What do you find in Rococo French painters like Boucher, Courbet, and Fragonard? What do you see in them?
Those artists are still not that highly regarded as far as I know. Particularly Courbet who certainly understood erotic gestures. It isn’t necessarily only the painters that I am interested in; it is the embellishments that one finds when talking about Rococo. Whether it be toile de jouy wallpaper or Chinoiserie that the French loved to use in their furniture and decoration. It is about the organic and robust entanglement.
What do you find in Chinese Pleasure Gardens? What do they contain that is useful to you as an artist?
Usually when referring to Chinese pleasure gardens aside from describing them in what appears to be poetically solicitous detail are the beautiful and extremely sweet visuals of Chinese couples cavorting intimately in a variety of Asian gardens. I am for some reason compelled towards Chinese imagery. I can only attribute this to my childhood home, where Asian imagery abounded including semi-nude figurines, Chinese landscape wallpaper in the dining room, and various other objects and paintings. I grew up looking at objects of nudity and thinking nothing of it.
Are you inspired by literature, music, or cinema? Which works, and why?
Madame Bovary by Flaubert and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn are two of my favorite books. They interest me because they reflect what I mentioned above, the notion of the inappropriate, the salacious, and yet wonderful writing that took much care and thought. I am more interested in theatre and very good movies intimidate me, because I think they have more impact. So, when I see a movie that is significant and well done, it makes me slink out of the theater and think, “what is the use”, that feeling lasts for a second or so. I say this because in order to be a serious artist one has to live in a bubble that contains optimism and the desire to make things above everything else.
How do you make? What is your process of research, selection, and construction? To what extent do you plan out a work? Has your process altered over time? If so, how?
I never plan. I will research images of other artists and whatever hits me whether it be in a magazine or an ad, I have to be wayward about this process. Unfortunately, that means that my studio is busting with pieces of paper with images on them, and fragments of found paintings that I cut up and use in my work. Cutting up found paintings that I get from a warehouse might be where the selection and constriction begins. I have been committed to figuration ever since I started painting on my own and while I have begun to add more and more elements of overt abstraction, I have always felt that the construction of a painting starts with abstraction.
Do you think you have contemporaries, from this century or otherwise? Who do you see yourself in conversation with, if anyone?
I am in conversation with any artist that makes me jealous. However, at the moment I am looking at George Condo, is he a favorite of mine? Not particularly, not his latest work. But, I do love his earlier work. Also, early Goya, and late Guston. I am not going to mention any other artists, because there are just too many of them and it doesn’t really matter!
Your pieces feel simultaneously very theatrical, demonstrative, flamboyant, but also private, speaking a secret half recognizable language. Do you think of viewers or audience at all while creating? If so, how? Do you employ narrative? What are your thoughts on narrative?
“Your pieces feel simultaneously very theatrical, demonstrative, flamboyant, but also private, speaking a secret half recognizable language”. You have very aptly described my work, Benjamin. My work has no overt narrative as you have surmised. But, I do deal with the picadellos of life lived. There is folly, contamination, joy, love and kisses in a hostile world… basically, what it means to be human.
What are your thoughts on the present generation of artists, if any? Do their practices bear any outstanding similarities or differences to past generations? How has the art world changed?
No answer except to say that art (and painting) continues to be visually exciting.
What is the power of paint and canvas? Your images are tremendously intoxicating, beautiful, and funny. Could you talk about humor, disorientation, and appropriation with regards to you work?
This is a quote from Miranda McClintic about my work, it is so succinct and on target that I do not feel like I can answer this question any better. “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”.
Could you discuss the process of finding your voice, and your approach to art making?
Well, I would say that the work will tell you what to do (I got that from a tarot reading about Pisces)! But, it seems quite apt because it is so easy to become paralyzed and also as an older artist, probably some of that innate enthusiasm has gone out the window. I now find that I have to be very patient, lay and wait, and hope for the best.