Maya Brym, the Pleasures of Occultation* and Illusion

Frosch and Portmann January 17 - Februay 24,2019


“Innermost” (2017)

*“Occultation,” used primarily in astronomy to describe the passage of one celestial body in front of another, also means interposition, overlapping in laymen’s terms—one object blocks another. This is the main monocular clue to depth perception that Brym uses—so manipulatively and shamelessly that her paintings are very funny. Like a magician showing you exactly how it’s done; it doesn’t matter, it still works, we see how we can’t help but see.
The paintings are made by masking off areas and then loosely painting, with a broad brush, skies or wood graining or landscape elements in a blithe manner. This manner contrasts with some very tight masking of the shapes of objects, which are then painted either transparently or translucently over the washes, or other washes—actually I got pretty lost trying to figure out how an individual painting was made—though at first it seemed it would be so easy to do.

Another clue to spatial depth in painting is an object’s position on the picture plane, the lower the object is placed, the nearer it appears. If I seem to labor these points, well, it’s because every other clue to depth has been used either sparingly or not at all. So I look for them and again magically they are simply not there.  There is no texture except the moth in Gathering where there is also a suggestion of diverging lines and a shadow.

The press release talks about “unique juxtapositions” of objects. Actually Innermost, the most familiar of the still-life arrangements, is the best painting because it looks so conventional and then—so not. That is part of the secret to Cezanne’s apples: the more familiar the object, the more useful to a painter who wants to explore the act of seeing itself.

“Gathering” (2016)

But there are pleasures to be had in all of the paintings. Here is the moth with its textured wing. Here is the slight nod to perspective lines in the “cube”. Here is a faint circular shadow (center lower right), though there is no light source—and a cunning placement of a bottle cap dead center and therefore voilà! closest to us.

“High Water” (2017)

Following the rules of occlusion to explore depth in High Water, the plant in its pot rests on the table in front of the pink vase, then the pineapple slices, the pinwheel and the medallion, the fan blade, the dark leaves (painted like the bamboo in a Chinese wallpaper) and the water and the island covers what is left of the ground. Note the absolute vertical of the table edge.

“High Noon” (2016)

High Noon breaks a few of the rules (insofar as I have understood them) and it doesn’t quite work for me. The brown “cylinder” on the lower left is overlapped by the transparent tall pink vase which is behind the black cylinder. The arcing orange slices, the transparent cactus, the figure of the cat which doesn’t achieve an illusion of dimension in the way the equally flat horse does: It goes too far and doesn’t quite lift off in the silly yet believable way of the other paintings.

“Rocket”, 2016

But Rocket, which is oddly disturbing: the sloppy orange circle next to the dimensionally described squash, with flat tableware and objects sliding off the canvas, and lacking the stability of the other paintings, I found moving, possibly because of that unique juxtaposition of the awkward foreground and the beautifully evocative painting of the leaves and the water.

It’s all an illusion, masking tape and minimal brushstrokes. Here’s a bit of Hindu philosophy from Wikipedia, “Maya originally denoted the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion.”

A meditation suggestion that I picked up once and use when times are hard is “it’s all maya”—usually and sometimes after a painful while, begins to seem ridiculous, then I feel like a fool, I smile, rise and go on with my day.


useful info on depth perception: