Brian Bress to debut work at Chrysler museum

by | Sep 4, 2016 | What’s Happening

Thursday, September 15–Sunday, February 19, 2017

Meet the Artist /NEON Festival lecture: Thursday, September 15, 6:30 pm

A new installation at the Chrysler Museum of Art invites visitors into the whimsical world of Norfolk-born artist Brian Bress. Opening to the public during Third Thursday on Sept. 15, In The Box: Brian Bress will mark the world premiere of Man with a Cigarette (2016), the artist’s first work to present a full-scale human figure using a video wall.

Over the last decade, Bress has won critical acclaim for innovative video-based works featuring an array of eccentric, humanoid characters the artist handcrafts from foam and found objects.

Born and raised in Norfolk, and a member of the family that has operated Bress Pawn and Jewelry for 75 years, Bress nurtured an early interest in art with classes at the Governor’s School for the Arts, the Contemporary Art Center of Virginia (now the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art), and the d’Art Center, as well as with visits to the Chrysler Museum of Art. Drawn to diverse media, he attended the Rhode Island School of Design to study illustration, concentrated on video and animation, and then focused on painting when he began his M.F.A. at the University of California, Los Angeles. Now based in Los Angeles, Bress creates works that defy easy categorization: sculptural forms come to life through performance; costumes are composed from collage and drawings; videos hang on walls like paintings.

Bress’s new piece, Man with a Cigarette, originated when he found a pen-and-ink drawing in a thrift store that depicted a man wearing a fedora-like hat, a broad tie and a jacket with wide lapels. The unknown artist used an array of techniques—from hatch marks and ragged shading to pointillistic dots and checkerboard patterning—which to Bress made it seem as if “the drawing was an artist’s love letter to drawing.”

The thrift store wouldn’t sell the drawing, so Bress decided to recreate it as a life-sized sculptural costume: “From head to toe I replicated in pen and ink the mysterious man from the not-for-sale drawing.” In the video piece, presented on a life-sized video wall, Bress wears this costume as he tries to reproduce the look and pose of the drawing.

Bress’s work is disarmingly lighthearted but deeply insightful, says Seth Feman, curator of exhibitions and acting curator of photography. “He addresses complex questions about representation, perception, and cognition, but he does so in a totally accessible way. It’s a little bit like watching Pee-wee’s Playhouse or Saturday-morning cartoons,” says Feman. “The work is endlessly engaging because it’s always unexpected.”

Admission is free at the Chrysler Museum of Art.