Brenda Draney: Hold Still

Aim is Important
Aim is Important, 2009 (enlarge)

March 5–April 10 2010 in the Main Space

Artist Talk: Saturday March 27th, 2:00 PM

Opening reception: Friday March 5th, 8:00 PM

Edmonton artist Brenda Draney is the national winner of the prestigious 11th annual RBC Canadian Painting Competition. This exhibition will feature new work recently created during a residency at the Banff Centre. Draney’s spare, fragmentary paintings continue her exploration of how memory, which is by its nature personal, operates in families, communities and cultures.

Brenda Draney received a BA in English and a BFA in painting from the University of Alberta, and in 2009 completed her MFA at Emily Carr University. She is currently an artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre.

View posts about Brenda Draney on the Latitude 53 Blog.

Less and More: The Painting of Brenda Draney

Essay by Ben Reeves

Before any painter lifts her brush she faces a blank, undifferentiated canvas—by default, a readymade monochrome.[1] The monochrome has been historically inscribed in two ways: those of the literal, autotelic type, “What you see is what you see,” à la Frank Stella, and those of the essentialist variety— that might purport to offer an absolute, transcendental or spiritual experience. In either case they are framed as autonomous, non-contingent things.

Representational painters cover these monochromes with depiction. And representational painting, differently, is about an alternative, imaginary space. It asks viewers to forget what they are looking at, to forget the painted object before them, and to focus attention on something that is literally not there. Typically, painters quickly block-in their picture or spread it over the monochrome ground to dispense with a competing paradigm.

Brenda Draney is not typical.

Brenda Draney: She Was Getting Lettuce
She Was Getting Lettuce (enlarge)

Over the past few years Draney has been ridding her pictures of anything non-essential. She discarded source photographs as their visual authority was overwriting her memory and unduly governing her decisions. And gaps started to appear in her pictures. The blank canvas asserted itself as depictions became fragmented and stranded on raw canvas like beached boats at low tide. The interplay of blank, minimal canvas and isolated, representational fragment became key in her practice.

Draney’s paring down inversely mirrors the teleological reductivism of modernist painting. She does not subscribe to over-arching narrative with its linear logic and concurrent meaning. And she does not depict complete stories and histories, but focuses on particular fragments of personal memory. Her pictures resist coherence. Incidental, contingent thoughts are the most compelling: It is the shine on a young girl’s pair of new shoes in the courtroom gallery instead of a larger legal drama that holds sway.

Draney’s “Aim is Important” (the picture that won her first place in RBC’s national painting competition last year) is a wonderful illustration of her process. An awkward male figure is haltingly, almost painfully scrubbed onto the left side of a bare canvas through a labour of remembering and pushing paint. On the right hovers what looks like a small target. The crudeness of the figure makes it difficult to tell whether he is holding a brush (he’s a painter?) or a dart. In either case he is about to send dart or brush across the gulf of raw canvas at the target. His odds of success are questionable. Conversely, there is a sense that (when Draney isolates a shard of memory) it has the capacity to pierce and stick with precision.

Draney typically does not install her work in conventional, linear fashion. Instead, she assembles clouds of pictures. Each image is not independent, but is contingent on others creating constellations of associations. Just as neurons in the brain never repeat the same pathway to a memory, her images are not read in the same order twice.

There is resistance here. Draney insists on unfixed fragments instead of totalizing, linear history. Sometimes the less said, the sharper the point.

[1] See Jeff Wall’s essay, “Monochrome and Photojournalism in On Kawara’s Today Paintings” in Robert Lehman Lectures on Contemporary Art, pg.

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