“I reject the idea of ordered Modernism, it’s just another dogma.”
Too often modern and contemporary art are compared to jazz. In many ways because it’s pretentious enough to sound insightful, but mostly because we find in both a decided effort to reign in the more chaotic elements of abstraction into a strongly and originally improvised whole. Think about it, doesn’t Toulouse Lautrec’s work scream for a big band playing behind it? Or how about matching Jackson Pollock’s to the more psychedelic parts of Bitches Brew?
In some confounding way, it actually makes a lot of sense, especially when you consider that these movements were evolving at the same time. In fact, it could be argued that this is a continuous trope in the art world - genres will often find inspiration and transcendence when such bonds are formed. Basquiat and hip-hop come as a great example of said collaboration.
But how then are we supposed to understand the vastly chaotic work of Paul Brainard? Through which musical prism should we analyze his art? Well, look no further than the artist’s drawings for the answer. Plastered through many of his pieces we find a milli references to 80s heavy metal - be it with Slayer logos, a Metallica t-shirt, or even Iron Maiden’s mascot, Eddie. And while there’s definitely some grunge in there too, what makes me believe that metal might be more of the coalescing factor is that the metaphysical darkness in Brainard’s work doesn’t hinge on a sense of despair, in reality, he seems to be exorcising his demons more than letting them absorb him.
“Tragic events in my life have very much informed my general life philosophy and therefore the direction of the work.” he tells Lodown, “The past few years I have been combining the absurdity of existence as it contrasts to the joy of a new life and love.”
No matter which piece you are looking at, you will constantly find yourself staring into the eyes of the subjects. Contrasted from the general chaos and perversion of the work, the eyes let out a heavy gaze, layered in a disturbed sense of sadness - think something like what Dracula would look like if he had been forced to bury a few wives - for tragedy that has become so ingrained in your day to day that you may even confuse it with normalcy. Nowhere is this more evident than in Brainard’s depiction of Tony Soprano, titled “5th Sunday Boner“.
Yet, because the subjects are all heightened caricatures, there seems to be an overall catharsis happening for the artist, who by drawing the depraved, surrenders his sublimation for the sake of the work.
“I like to work with both random imagery and very specific imagery in the same work. It is this idea that I feel most closely represents an accurate picture of reality.”
The metal connotation also expresses itself in the way the subjects all relate to one another. A screaming Rudy Giuliani with spades tattooed on his forehead, or a full-breasted Ronald Reagan posing erotically, exemplify the unnatural realism in the paintings. These radical beasts, boasted in religious connotation and macabre imagery, seem to want to be let loose by a barrage of thunderous sound that only heavy metal can grant.
Moreover, something that comes off as quite shocking in the work, is a general absence of colors. The grisly scenes have their chaotic nature multiplied by the low extravagance of tonality. As different as one drawing may be to the next, they are all inextricably linked in their manifestation. Together, the depictions create a unique reality that could not come about through simple variety in illustration.
“I really like work that is drastically altered as it is made in the manner of De Kooning and Picasso. There are things that occur during the making of the works that seem to point in a specific direction and this ambiguity keeps it interesting for me.”
Brainard’s art is a hyper-evocation of reality. It’s a mixture of highly personal subjects with a venomous dose of our contemporary world. And as all good artists do, in the midst of celebrity cults, advertising, music and pop culture, politics and religion, he leaves the ability to interpret his drawings open for himself and his audience alike, at all times.
Mayhem for Paul Brainard is second nature, but his sensitivity in the face of it showcases the depth of someone who has a lot to say. His tumultuous strokes of graphite, combined with the sheer majesty and wild nature of his depictions, highlight the passion of a hungry artist with a solid foothold on reality - whatever that may be - and a clear vision for his craft. Or as he told us: “Embrace the chaos and it will set you free.”
words: Fran Attié & Forty