Judith Braun: Quest for Order, Pattern and Cohesion

An Interview with the Artist

Fingering, Artwork by Judith Braun

Judith Braun never failed to explore the many alleys of art – from the realistic figure paintings of the 1980s to experimentations with ‘fingering’ and ‘photocopy’. Her life’s journey was anything but smooth. Not so surprisingly her art, at times, was permeated with her radical thoughts. At other times she chose to express herself with more subtlety.

Judith Braun’s tragedies transformed into a soliloquy through her works such as, ‘Weinperson Got Away by the Skin of Her Teat’ and ‘Six Good Cases for Manslaughter’. After a period of severe pecuniary distress and a growing feeling of an inner void, she consulted tarot in 2003 and picked up one of the most complex cards of the Major Arcana – ‘The Lovers’. But Judith understood the hidden meaning, her creative love was nourished again. The power of life triumphed over adversity.

Also a writer herself Judith was born in 1947, Albany, NY and completed her post graduation in Fine Arts from University at Albany, NY. To describe her work it is perhaps better to borrow a few words from her favourite author Dostoyevsky, ‘Right or wrong, it’s very pleasant to break something from time to time’. At Indianapolis Museum her latest creations will be exhibited in a show titled ‘Graphite’ with her fellow contemporary artists from 6th December.

Photograph of Judith as a Child

You have studied art and all your life you have been involved with artistic projects. As a child were you always fascinated by artistic expressions?

When I think back at what I did artistic as a child I remember enjoying rainy days with a colouring book and a new box of crayons, or sitting at my father’s large drafting table, under the warm lights, with a clean sheet of paper and pencils. My father also taught me how to hammer nails into a block of wood. And that’s me today, I like nothing more than to be alone in my studio, especially on rainy days, with all my supplies, including carpentry tools and lumber.

The themes of your work might have been radical at times but always aesthetically appealing. Do you owe your sense of aestheticism to your roots in fine arts?

For me, the pleasure of visual aesthetic has to be equal to the concept. If the concept or narrative weighs even one tiny bit more, the whole thing becomes propaganda or illustration. So that’s my guide and barometer. Of course, everyone has different aesthetic taste, and mine is towards order, pattern, and cohesion, which can be traced to nature itself more than the fine arts. These are things we discover about ourselves as we work.

Fingering, Artwork by Judith Braun

You have utilized various mediums for artistic expressions and sometimes it was also a reflection of the trials of life that you were experiencing. Where did this idea of ‘fingering’ stem from?

The way I go about working is to periodically seek the void, where things are wide open and I can use absolutely anything, gravitating in myriad undefined ways. It will never be a decision to use something because it will represent or reflect intentionally, it will always be a form of a desire to do or use something. That way the process and the work will resonate indirectly, allowing me to observe and communicate with the work, rather than telling it what to be.

The fingerings came while experimenting with ways to enlarge my small Symmetrical Procedure drawings for a very large wall that a curator, Raimundas Malasauskas, offered me for an exhibition. After a few days of trial and error in my studio, I became more and more conscious of the symmetry of my whole body as a drawing tool directly on the wall. So the first Fingering came out of stretching, while still adhering to, my own rules of – Symmetry – Abstraction – Carbon medium… for the small drawings. A leap, but one that I might never have taken if it wasn’t for my parameters. Soon more and more layers of meanings arose, like how my life is in my hands, about the skin and fingertips as our predominant sense organ, and that my body and the charcoal are the same carbon medium. All the meanings in the work reveal themselves as I work, rather than before. But it’s all somehow connected to following those early forms of desire.

Your life has seen some extreme lows as has it also seen some magnificent heights. And all the while your art has evolved and perhaps this evolution was quite pronounced at times. How would you sum up your artistic journey?

In a simple way I’d say it’s been my life raft. But also, that that raft is me. The worst thing (in my opinion) is to feel that you are not living your life true to yourself, that you have gotten lost on someone else’s path, or been deterred by fear or discouragement. So whenever I have felt that kind of desperation and need for a life raft, I’d get to the point that I realize it meant being able to say ‘No’ to other people and things, so I could say ‘Yes’ to me.

Could you please specify how language and texts became elements of influence in your art?

The influences came from all the civil rights and liberation movements of the 60’s, as people grappled with oppressive powers including analyzing the social/psychological impact of language. The simple changes from Miss to Ms…Chairman to Chairperson… and my own married name from Weinman to Weinperson, were just symptoms of a much deeper reckoning. People were taking ownership of the language used to define and control them; ‘Our Bodies, Our Selves’ was a popular book and mantra for women and the infamous Guerilla Girls, and the N-word being used by African Americans. I was particularly intrigued by how humour could penetrate the battleground and disarm the opponent; it was daring, exciting and empowering. One of my first forays into the realm was a show I installed at Emma Willard, a private girls school in upstate New York, that got shuttered and banned before it opened. I won’t describe it all here, but it was the launching pad for my later titles ‘Read My Pussy’, ‘I’m as Happy as a Bitch Can Be’, and ‘The Sacred Order of the Burning Bush’, to name a few. I still get a kick out of those.

Fingering, Artwork by Judith Braun

You have seen many hues of life. If there is one colour that you are asked to choose to depict the current times what would that be?

The only way I can answer that is to look at what I do now, which is working with black and white. This gives me the infinite range of gradations between the extremes of light and dark, and includes also every texture and pattern and mark, from the largest to the smallest. Maybe it’s my way of bringing everything together, finding the sameness with all its differences.

Your experimentation, ‘Xerox’, is another example of uniqueness where you even used real flowers! Have you always sought to be different consciously in your expressions and executions?

I think that’s what art is for, (in the realm of human existence!) to push at the edges of what we already know, like scientists, using materials we already have, and yet taking things just a step further, in a new direction, to bring a surprise. Just like in music, we love the anticipation that repetitions provide, but then we reach certain points when we want change of pattern and syncopation too. I keep that in mind, the timing of staying with something, and then knowing when to let it change and expand.

From someone who has successfully endured life to be a winner what suggestions would there be for the youngsters from any walk of life.

(see answer to the 4th question)… but also, do everything you do at your very best. Be accountable for all things in your life, the failures or mistakes as well as the successes, so you will have solid footing in who you are.

Portrait of Judith Braun

Judith Braun …

As a young child I lived near an orphanage and would lie in bed at night wondering how it happened I had a family, and they had none. When in my ’20s, on a beach one starry night with friends, I realized we were on a planet flying through space. My favourite book for many years has been Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky. I love all Dostoyevsky, and all of Jane Austen. The language and the transparency of characters. I also read lots of current theory of the brain, consciousness, string theory and quantum mechanics.

My favourite music is rooted in my own early era of Funk and Soul… James Brown, Otis Reading, Aretha, Bessie Smith, Odetta. So I love Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Grace Jones, Prince… Black Eyed Peas, Outkast, Sean Paul, Macy Gray… Lady Gaga.

Find more of her work at her website.

Image Courtesy: Judith Braun