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Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Simonides

Robert J. Brawley

Robert Julius Brawley (1937 - April 14, 2006) was an American painter, known for his rich still life and figure works.

Brawley gained a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1963 and a Master of Fine Arts in 1965 from the San Francisco Art Institute. As a student, he was an abstract expressionist painter, but after studying at the Academy of Fine Arts, Florence, Italy, he moved into realism, primarily still lifes and figure work. Many of his still lifes were symbolic.

His works are on display in the National Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri, and other venues. His work has been mentioned in many books and magazine articles.

He was a professor, and chairman of the art department at the University of Kansas.

Brawley died in 2006 after a six-month battle with cancer.

Known for his symbolically rich still life and figure works, he began his career as an Abstract Expressionist but study in Florence, Italy influenced his move away from abstraction.

Born April 24, 1937, the son of Julius Augustus and Evanelle M. Rogers Brawley, he studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1963, and a Master of Fine Arts in 1965.

Robert J. Brawley paints haunting images in which symbolic density coexists with fluid representationalism. In Early Netherlandish Painting Erwin Panofsky wrote of the “disguised symbolism” of the Flemish Primitives: “The more the painters rejoiced in the discovery and reproduction of the visible world, the more intensely did they feel the need to saturate all of its elements with meaning.” Brawley describes his own universe of meaning as “loosely centered around Gnostic-Jungian throught,” but he extends his repertoire to encompass centuries of art history. Event Horizon: Cruising the Edge (2001) particularly brings Panofsky to mind. A Flemish head of Christ hovers in a cobalt empyrean, above what looks like an artist’s messy work shelf and a wall with pinned-up art works that include a drawing of a satyr. Brawley’s still lifes suggest the historical cabinets of wonders, those connoisseurs’ collections—half-scientific, half-aesthetic—of natural and manmade oddities and beauties. His specimen paintings range from the simplicity of the duo in the almost trompe l’oeil Mineral Kingdom (2000) to the multicultural mélange of I Only Just Found Out! (1998), which juxtaposes a painting (or reproduction) of a Renaissance youth and a sculpture of an Indonesian demon, a tacked-up glove and stone fingers. The fragment of a hand reaching upwards is a favorite motif. In Lazarus: Realm of Iron, Realm of Shadows (1997), a similar hand is balanced, on the other side of the composition, by a twisted but equally articulated branch of coral. A doll’s head in a box echoes the close-up drawing of a face pinned to the wall. Brawley sees his still lifes as expressing “a layered metaphor of entrapment or containment in a materialistic and destructive plane of existence.”

His figure compositions have similar symbolic density but are more immediately sensuously appealing. They often incorporate witty appropriations of nineteenth-century Salon nudes. The odalisques of Ingres are prototypes for the figures in works such as The Secret Room (1995), where a turbaned nude, seen from the rear, is regarded by a middle-distance painter. Other art-historical allusions include a framing swag of red drapery, a stone ledge supporting some exquisitely executed still-life objects and a Bellini-like landscape backdrop. In the wonderfully titled St. Sophia as Aphrodite Descends into the Theater of Redemption (2004) the syncretic goddess rises through the center of a tondo (18 inches in diameter) against a seascape of blue water and fleecy golden clouds. Subsidiary figures include a stooped monk, St. Geneviève and a lamb bound for sacrifice. This very original mythological construct is bathed in jewel-like light. Allegory of the Wound that Cannot Heal (2003) places an academic-style nude in an altarpiece configuration, against a red cloth of honor that hovers in front of a sfumato Renaissance landscape. An arched architectural frame rests on a cloth-draped ledge filled with fruit and flowers, in the manner of Crivelli.

Brawley, who teaches at the University of Kansas School of Fine Arts, has built an impressive exhibition record including many Realism Invitationals as well as solo shows. Public art collections holding his works include the National Museum of American Art, the Art Institute of Chicago and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

American Arts Quarterly, Volume 22, number 2.



David said...

I got to work with Brawley during his final years at KU and I am so pleased to find your blog about him. Thank you!!!

Artodyssey said...

My pleasure David :) Thank YOU.
You're a lucky person !
Have a nice day. Thanks for the visit and for the comment

Bridgid said...

I had an opportunity to study with Brawley for three years in the early nineties at KU. He was a quiet man with an extraordinary talent. He mentored me in figure drawing and helped me express 'presence of hand.' Truly one of the greats. Thanks to Artodyssey for making his artworks available for all.


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