Dancing rivers, a field of mustard flowers, a love letter, and a coral reef are some of the lustrous images gracing the walls of Micaëla Gallery this month. Produced on stainless steel canvases coated with synthetic resin and pigment, Christo Braun's provocative and avant-garde works of art are labeled as paintings, which can be misleading -- they are actually comprised of a unique mixed-media combination that does not include typical painting media. Inspired by nature in all its forms and the emotional imagery nature often displays, Braun's work neatly balances on the line between abstract and representational art, and invokes an extended gaze.
Since the 2005 exhibition of his Open Water series, Braun's work has become more emotionally charged. His muse is his late wife, Deborah Gibbon, a dear friend and mentor of mine and the dynamic originator of the educational platform for KQED's Spark program. She was also an accomplished artist, and the two supported one another wholeheartedly. In dealing with the recent loss of his beloved and inspirational partner, Braun told me that putting together his new exhibit was the second hardest thing he'd ever done in his life. When one is familiar with the conditions under which he created his new series, the dimensions of Braun's work become more powerful -- both visually and viscerally.
His work provides a reflective viewing experience inherent in using both stainless steel and mirrored tiles as the backgrounds for his paintings. Surrounding light sources and viewers' images and movements are reflected in the specialized canvases, fulfilling the ever-present desire of artists to draw the audience and the environment into the work. The mirroring effect adds a feeling of energy that is equally as important as the actual images.
When an artist's body of work is as solidified as Braun's, a viewer might assume that the artist has found his niche after years of perfecting a particular style. Though Braun has built a career through his resin paintings, which have been collected internationally, he has also been successful in many other avenues -- as a carpenter, sculptor, designer, photographer, and writer. Also impressive to note is the technique and skill required to work with synthetic resin, a moody medium that behaves erratically, with a setting process heavily dependent on specific weather conditions and a precise chemical balance.
Braun's controlled yet impassioned hand is obvious in his work. His paintings are abstract, but can seem impossibly close to a glorified representation of their natural subjects. The river paintings seem in constant flux, and the Coral Reef image appears to wave back and forth with the tides. Made up of deep sapphire blues and purples with swelling white waves, Seachange and Riverflow maintain an unmatched depth and sensation of velocity, while the exhibit's anchor work, Riverdance, gives the appearance of an underwater perspective. Several of the pieces in Braun's 2005 exhibit had a more uniform turquoise-based color palette reflective of open expanses of water, but his 2006 series explores the lushly broad range of all of nature's hues. The surface treatment has a gem-like quality and the colors are intensely sensuous and glossy, bringing to mind a variety of comparisons such as molten lava, melting candy, and bright lights reflected on wet pavement.
Braun's work can be compared to certain impressionist and abstract expressionist painters, but his successful manipulation of fluctuating media sets him apart from other artists. With a remarkable use of color that is intensely rich, many of the pieces draw upon the tones of the bluest tropical oceans and the brightest oranges and reds of an impetuous flame. It is challenging to reproduce the piercing colors found only in nature, and he meets that challenge through his use of materials and his keen eye for harmonizing color.
The exhibit also provides evidence that art has the power to be therapeutic for both the artist and viewer. Through the nightmare of a sudden and horrifying loss, Braun directed his artistic talent to channel his grief and produced beautifully rendered images from which emanate the true nature and spirit of life.
The Christo Braun exhibition runs through December 1, 2006 at the Micaëla Gallery.