Cecile Brunswick is an artist whose work is strong on color blocking and brilliant assemblages. She has a very clear and focused eye http://www.cecilebrunswicknyc.com/ and her work is highly-stylized and refreshing. I spoke with her about many things and as you’ll find out, she has strong command of her process…
“… Color is dominant in all my paintings and is often determined by what I see when staring out my studio window … I might notice a color I’ve not seen before and decide to use it in a new piece ...”
MICHAEL: Hello Cecile, I see so many things in your work: color blocking, form, fragmentation, landscapes, topography, etc. Let's start with color blocking. It looks like you're almost experimenting with what you can do with color. How do you see this?
CECILE: Color must be part of my DNA. I’m attracted first and foremost to anything colorful. Lately, I’ve seen pairs of sneakers walking down the street toward me. My eyes are drawn to them because they are a sizzling bright orange tied with shocking, pink laces. This unforgettable combination I considered using in a painting and did, indeed, include it in my 3D works in a design element on the wood pieces that are glued to canvas.
CECILE: Color is dominant in all my paintings and is often determined by what I see when staring out my studio window. On a bright sunny day, the buildings in the distance take on a different hue than when the atmosphere is gray or dark. I might notice a color I’ve not seen before and decide to use it in a new piece. However, the colors I choose next must harmonize with it. They must also flow across the work in such a way that the viewer’s eyes travel around the entire painting seamlessly. I try to vary different color combinations with each new work so that the end result is memorable and vibrant.
MICHAEL: When you put colors together in the way that you do, are you thinking in terms of storytelling or just the mood of colors and how you want to experiment with them?
CECILE: An interesting question, Michael. Mostly, my colors express my feelings about what I’m seeing. When I was in Morocco, the light was so bright that colors became more vibrant than previously seen. At the same time, I was reacting to the barred windows on every home and building there, built to shield the women from strangers peering inside!
My very bright Moroccan works reflect this as well. Many of my latest colorful 3D works are a reaction to all the construction taking place downtown and in particular a 42-story hotel rising right in front of my studio windows. Angry about that unhappy situation, I’m painting a large, colorful abstraction which incorporates the color gray of the cinder blocks in its façade and some architectural elements, but these exist with some beautiful bright colors so the final result is an exciting colorful work. Colors win out.
MICHAEL: Your paintings are like beautiful maps, elegant studies in topography or fragmented landscapes. I don't know. Which is it? What's the inspiration?
CECILE: People often liken my abstractions to maps, but in fact they are inspired by fragments on billboards. Before it was banned, people would attach posters onto the wooden walls surrounding construction sites. In time, the wind, rain or people would degrade them so that only chards of colors and shapes remained. I was on the lookout for the most colorful, appealing shaped forms and with the magnifying lens on my camera, would photograph them, just inches away. Not understanding what I was about, a workman at one of these sites yelled out…
“Lady you’re not going to get anything!”
But I got exciting colored shapes which I used as starting points on fresh canvases. Once I had these outlined on a new work, I would continue the painting from my imagination using jagged edges on my shapes to create the effect of torn paper.
MICHAEL: And so, why the fascination with fragments and chards? Torn paper and pieces of things; is this some sort of documentation exercise on your part?
CECILE: The variety of shapes found in fragments appeal to me as they differ greatly in effect from circles, squares and rectangles which are more static. Torn pieces can be placed anywhere in a canvas offering more flexibility. They are characteristically dynamic, dramatic, draw attention to the whole piece and are adaptable, easy to use and alter when the composition so dictates. Often I’ll create my own shapes or find something else that intrigues me and use that.
MICHAEL: I often think of fragments and shapes in terms of human memory ... the memory or fading memory of things. What do fragments, shards and shapes represent for you? Anything in terms of human metaphors?
CECILE: In a way, these remnants are a reminder of earlier times when the need for communicating future events and new products were posted on billboards in such a way that every passerby could easily see them; movies, theatrical productions, political meetings and news headlines were slapped on the walls routinely. These are a sharp contrast to today’s use of the internet to broadcast advertisements and press releases. However, none of these previous uses are memorialized in my artwork where they are used solely as a tool with which to explore a variety of compositions.
MICHAEL: Your works on canvas, paper and the assemblages are all quite stunning. How do you decide which media to use? Do your different concepts and inspirations work better according to whether you use canvas or paper?
CECILE: Canvas is by far my preferred material; it lends itself to many more types of applications than paper. It takes a slew of media including pastel, charcoal, pencil, oils and secure items glued to it. Moreover, one can paint over a previous design and easily change the subject matter entirely many times over. I might look at an old piece and decide it could be improved and end up executing an entirely new composition over the old.
Paper, on the other hand is useful when I need to put down something rapidly before the light or scene changes. I’ll turn to paper also when I don’t know what to do next. In this case, I’ll pick up one color - a pastel perhaps- and move it along rapidly along the surface thoughtlessly in any direction just to get started. Several lines later, an idea may percolate or I may find that the lines I’ve drawn are in themselves a beginning.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the change that the art world is experiencing now? The Internet? Art fairs everywhere? Rising rents for galleries? Super wealthy people buying blue chip art? Do you relate to any of this?
CECILE: Art world changes are a vast improvement for the individual artist, who like myself, are independent rather than relying on art galleries to sell their art. The internet particularly makes it possible to reach out to the world through my website, by e-mailing responses to calls for artists, reaching buyers who might never have heard of me, acquiring a presence on sites like Instagram, Facebook etc. The possibilities are unending.
One effect is that though galleries can augment their out-of-state business, they are facing competition from independent artists affecting their own sales. Art fairs everywhere are, in some ways, very appealing to me as I’ve shown in several with varying degrees of success. My first particularly, at the Architectural Digest Design Show a few years ago netted me representation in two galleries, a solo show in a museum and sales of several paintings. As a result, I’m constantly enticed by them, though I haven’t done as well since that first. On the other hand, they have become so numerous that galleries now tend to exhibit and make most of their sales there, leaving independents vying for the same audience. It is necessary to figure out beforehand which fairs are worth the investment. Not always easy to do.
It’s too bad that super wealthy people lean toward blue chip art solely because galleries advise them to do so. I think they should become more independent, take a chance on contemporary art when it appeals to them, thus helping artists to upgrade their reputation and become well known.
MICHAEL: I've been saying since Day One that emerging artists comprise the most exciting sector of the entire art world. No one knows who will rise or what the breakout new genre will be. Fun. However, I suppose it's tough to explain this to someone rich who mostly buys art as investment. No?
CECILE: I agree with you, Michael, that one never knows where or who the next exciting artist may be or come from. Since you raise the question about selling to the rich, I’ve been thinking not so much about how to convince them to purchase, but how does one find them in the first place.
CECILE: If one knows who they are, where to contact them and convince them to come and see the art, I think they would be no different than any other customer in terms of getting them involved and interested in acquiring something they love. A purchase, after all, is an investment for everyone- the super wealthy and not so rich.
MICHAEL: Yes it is.
CECILE: One of the reasons for my investing in art fairs, I suppose is that I’d come across some rich buyers and that has happened very occasionally. I have tried Googling to find top notch collectors and though I came across a site for collectors, you had to be one to join and prove it by enumerating the well-known artists in your collection! Joining was the only way to gain access to their list. Another way is to bring so much attention to yourself that they come to you. Then, supposing you find some collectors, how do you get them to come and see the work?
All of these thoughts bring up the ultimate question regarding how an artist can increase her sales and how best to create publicity which will bring in new buyers. I firmly believe that all of this is possible and am determined to find a way. More shows may be one way.
MICHAEL: Have female artists achieved parity with male artists in the art world?
CECILE: In one word, NO! Fortunately, I don’t think about this disparity when entering competitions or approaching museum curators, I just blithely send out materials with the conviction that the quality of the work will be their main consideration. Obviously, this is not always the case. Curators also have their own agendas, preferences, biases and trained viewpoint which complicate their decision. Years ago, a curator with a prominent museum came to my studio to look at my work and asked me some perplexing questions about the work which I wasn’t sufficiently schooled to answer. Not a position I or another artist wants to be in again!
But discrimination of one sort or another occurs in most fields. Women, of course, are needed to sing roles in classical music at the opera, churches and the concert stage. Yet I’ve heard extremely gifted, musical, expressive singers who aren’t chosen for top roles because their voices aren’t big enough. I saw a filmed version of a Met audition in which one woman was, without a doubt, the best of the lot and yet wasn’t chosen the winner by the judges. They suggested she sing in Europe. Yet not all large voiced singers produce musically beautiful sounds and interpretations of the text. Having spent time as a classical singer before changing over to painting, music is still an important factor in my life.
MICHAEL: Is music a factor at all in your painting? I do see and feel music in your work. Do you listen to music while you paint?
CECILE: Without intending it, music does infiltrate my artwork. As a youngster, my mother, both a singer and subsequent sculptor, introduced me to classical music by listening to recordings, taking me to piano and vocal concerts as well as her own coaching sessions.
I had piano lessons with an unusual teacher who had me playing simple piano duets with him from the very start. I loved my lessons – all fun, no grinding exercises, and thus I learned to read music well at sight. I attended the High School of Music & Art as a vocal student.
In time, I was hired to sing in church and synagogue choirs and eventually gave a recital in London’s Wigmore Hall comprised of readings by Moliere, the French dramatist and songs written by Lully, the French composer for Moliere’s plays. As a young mother, I wasn’t able to carry my idea forward to any great extent here in the U.S.
MICHAEL: Wow, but it does sound like you were accomplished. Does this translate to your paintings?
CECILE: On the conscious level, each color in my paintings is placed in three different areas so as to make the viewer’s eyes circle around the whole canvas; the shapes also are similarly balanced. In one instance, when I had finished an abstraction, I saw two shapes which reminded me of a figure seated at a piano; it was thus titled “To Music.” The title actually resulted from a discussion with my mother about Schubert’s song “An Die Muzik” (To Music) which we both loved and decided each of us would create a piece of art dedicated to the song. Mine came along quite by accident. Mother never got around to hers.
I don’t listen to music while I’m painting. Music goes around in my head all the time and invariably tends to be snippets from the last piece of music I hear wherever I happen to be.
MICHAEL: Finally Cecile, when people look at your work, what do you want them to see, think and feel? And what role do you hope your work will play in the world at large? What's the point of your work?
CECILE: When people look at my work I want them to see the color (and they do) and be so enamored by the composition as a whole, love the painting so much, that they feel they must have it (even if it matches the sofa).
I hope my work becomes so well-known that art collectors want to add it to their collection. To that end, I’m exhibiting more frequently and believe that art fairs attract a large, wide population. In that respect, I’m reminded of travels taken overseas where I’ve visited open markets which are always crowded with people looking and buying all kinds of wares. They are usually so much fun to attend. I think the art market needs to be more open and have that kind of spirit. Additionally, I’m hoping that my art will be incorporated into important museum collections.
Art is an integral part of society and has been since time immemorial. I’m contributing to it while doing what matters to me most and keeping myself totally engaged.
MICHAEL: Thanks Cecile. This has been a lovely chat.
CECILE: My thanks to you Michael for the interview.
Check out Cecile Brunswick at http://www.cecilebrunswicknyc.com/.