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Bradly Brown And The Art Of Staying Busy

cyanotypes1editBradly Brown lays out his early experiments with cyanotype printing on carpet samples. Photo credit: Jerome Weeks

North Texas is heading into a vast outpouring of visual art. This weekend is the Deep Ellum Arts Festival. Next week is the Dallas Art Fair. It’s also Mayor Mike Rawlings’ Dallas Art Week. And the Dallas Biennial is currently going on. KERA’s Jerome Weeks talked with one area artist who’s extremely busy these days. But that’s not unusual for him.

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Bradly Brown is setting out photo portraits on a table. They’re magazine-size headshots. “This was the first piece that I did with this technique,” he says. “This was probably 2000. And I was really interested in cyanotype photography. So this was a series of internet mugshots from the same girl.”

Brown was a UNT photography student then, and cyanotype is old-school, an early form of photography. Today, anyone can manipulate digital images any way we want. That’s why some artists prefer more hands-on photo techniques. These are known as “alternative process photography.”  They’re more tactile, more evocative, more personal.

bradleditWith cyanotype, the artist creates the actual print. He mixes light-sensitive chemicals together, called the emulsion. Then he applies it to a surface, most often paper. When those coated parts are exposed to light, they turn dark blue, forming the image. But the surfaces Brown uses for his portraits are ordinary carpet samples. Sure, they make the cyanotype images fuzzy. But it turns out they also make them develop even more slowly.

“The reason I ended up using these carpet pieces was that delayed exposure time,” he explains. “So I could hang these carpet pieces on a wall [having kept them tucked away from light in black garbage bags] and then during that  opening, they would start to expose. What interested me was that ghost-like image at the beginning and then, by the time the visitor leaves the gallery, they’ve seen it kind of at its full exposure.”

Right now, Brown’s carpet portraits — The Yearbooks (see image outfront)– hang in Richland College’s Brazos Gallery. They’re like most portraits; they’re not changing much. But for that one evening, they were a slow-motion event. Visitors witnessed the images in the process of becoming images.

And that’s why Brown got into photography: “I was interested in process. Most of my work is pretty process-oriented and labor-intensive.” When he worked on one album cover for Impala Eardrums: A Radium Sampler (a vinyl album, of course — more tactile, remember? — for the label, Table of Elements), he found a Chevy Impala door in a Long Island junkyard, sanded it down to bare steel. And then, much like his later silhouette carpet-sample portraits, he used hydrogen peroxide to rust out an image on the metal — of a dead impala.

impala doorSo let’s talk labor-intensive. It’s as if Brown sets up hurdles and complications in his art to make things more difficult and more interesting – and in his work life as well. Brown teaches drawing and 3-D design at TCU. He just assistant-curated an exhibition at the Fort Worth Contemporary. He’s one of the dozen members of the Homecoming! Committee, the Fort Worth artists’ collective that’s had eight shows in the three years since it was founded, including one at the DMA. Brown’s carpet portraits at the Brazos Gallery – that show is part of the Dallas Biennial. The Biennial is a collection of a dozen art exhibitions involving nearly 50 artists. Their exhibitions are popping up at galleries and art spaces around the city.

And Brown has another job. He’s co-founder of the North Texas visual arts magazine semigloss.

After graduating from UNT, Brown spent nine years in New York as a photographer, designing album covers and working at Christie’s, the auction house. So he was a natural as art director for the innovative, quarterly magazine that Dallas artist Sally Glass (below) was trying to launch. Each issue of semigloss has its own theme and style. Brown has used newsprint, semi-translucent paper stock, even a laser-cut holographic cover. Glass says Bradly is one of the most talented artists she’s ever met: “He’s constantly pushing himself to work with new materials, new processes. And he is tireless.”

The newest issue of semigloss, out this month, is a collaboration with the Dallas Biennial. Brown says, in effect, this issue is like another one of the Biennial’s galleries. “We’ve always looked at the magazine as a collaborating venue, not just a magazine. It’s another place for artists to experiment with the material they’re using.”

Sally glasseditAnd Brown has yet another show. Next week, two dozen artists, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings’ daughter Michelle, will open a group show at 500 Singleton. It’s a green warehouse in West Dallas, and yes, the show is also part of the Dallas Biennial. As for Brown’s latest artwork, he’s still interested in process and in the ephemeral. This time, he’s poured liquid plastic over melting ice cubes.

“So the ice will melt and all you’re left with is the residue,” he says. Making the leftover, sponge-like plastic shape a response to the fleeting nature of the ice?

“Yeah, it’s trying to put a harness on it,” he says with a laugh. “Trying to stop it from going away.”

As for the Dallas Biennial, it won’t be going away just yet. It has shows running through May.