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Cris Brodahl
Still Alive


oil on canvas

122 x 147 cm
Painted with the romanticised aura of yesteryear, Cris Brodahl’s Still Alive is an exquisite and bizarre arrangement. Drawing from Surrealism as a departure point for negotiating the human form, Brodahl’s painting is pieced together as a stylised motif, an irrational and dream-like icon. Brodahl’s ‘portrait’ is both seductive and monstrous: fashionable accoutrements of flowers and fur double as sensuous physicality, replicating folds of skin and alluring warmth, accessorised by a disembodied hand and all-seeing eye. Through her delicate assemblage, Brodahl composes a disjointed fetishism, conceiving the rules of attraction as esophoric and cerebral paradigm.


Cris Brodahl
Issue 98, April 2006, by Melissa Gronlund, Frieze Magazine

Dutch artist Cris Brodahl’s sepia-toned paint-ings have the feel of time taken slowly. Rendered in a Photorealist style, the misshapen, mostly female ?gures appear to have deliberately moved beyond conventional beauty. Brodahl begins by collaging cut-outs from magazines, combin-ing fashion imagery with subdued allusions to power. She reworks the source material as she paints, drawing out connections among the pictures and foregrounding their latent meaning. Images of glamour are touched with shades of violence; what was whole appears lacking. Clouds from a nuclear explosion suggest a woman’s gently dispersing torso; a newspaper obscures a woman’s face. An immediate resem-blance to Surrealism gives the impression of quasi-legible signi?cance, bound by the internal logic of each piece.
Time and again idealized femininity meet its own decay: in Longing (2005) a woman lies on her side, her young face resting on her skeletal hand. Death is both alluring and fearsome, a duo expressed concisely in the pearly vagina dentata of Beautiful Skull (2004). Other paintings suggest the impossibility of absolute beauty through ab-breviated ?gures: a woman intimated only by an elegant hand, roses and a single eye; clouds issu-ing from a man’s upturned collar. Faces are often formed from two separate sources, which collide in a line down the centre like some latter-day demoiselle, turning the two model-perfect halves into one monstrosity.
Part of the critique advanced by feminist artists in the 1970s and ’80s was aimed at the objecti?cation of woman in the media and the allegorical role of the female ?gure in painting. Their work emphasized, in contrast, the dif? cul-ties behind any attempt to represent woman as she is in herself. How far Brodahl goes in this direction is uncertain, though the status of the female subject as represented representa-tion seems explicit: women are statuettes (Wax Altar, 2004), fashion models (Silence, Make-Up, both 2004), music icons (The Jean Genie, 2005). Similarly, her technique of isolating images from fashion magazines yields unexpected parallels to the more critical practice of artists such as Sarah Charlesworth. Compare, for example, her White Nails (2004), in which the Grecian folds of a torso spring out of a manicured hand, with Charlesworth’s photo of Marlene Dietrich’s white satin dress, from the ‘Objects of Desire’ series (1983). Brodahl’s attitude towards her material is more ambivalent, however – her appropriation of fashion photography is more a gesture of reclamation than critique.
In part this leeway is made possible by col-lage, with its ability to embrace contradiction. In the graceful Silence, for example, a magazine model’s head is covered from her top lip up-wards by the image of a tree in a cloudy sky, its branches forming the features of her face. The painting interprets its title variously: the silence of the represented woman; the speci? c silence of Brodahl’s ?gure, with her half-mouth; and the pastoral evocation of a silent landscape. The rendering of collage as oil paintings thematizes the concerns that were addressed in the 1970s and ’80s and, in so doing, formalizes them.
It is this intentional distance between the audience and the painted ?gure that supplies the missing link between the works’ use of fashion imagery, nods to Surrealism and the evocation of old, sepia photographs. (They’re the colour of ‘19th-century’ pictures taken in studio booths at Disneyworld.) Brodahl’s is a world where meaning lies at a remove: depictions captured by another hand, subconscious meaning and signi?cance that are lost in the past. Her subjects exist in a regime to which the spectator does not have access – the women in The Jean Genie, Brodahl’s painting from David Bowie’s video, are unapproachable not because of their glamour or iconicity but because of their inscrutable expression and the painting’s indeterminacy.
Ironically, while trekking in Freudian territory, Brodahl’s images are tightly controlled. Slips look deliberate, and any weirdness appears seemly enough to print in Harper’s. More than anything, it is Brodahl’s ability to evoke a sense of stillness that distinguishes her canvases – this within potentially explosive subjects. The terri?c Glass Cathedral (2004) depicts a woman – she of the nuclear-cloud body – praying with oversize hands held close to her blond hair, while next to her the black canvas is marked by scored hatch-marks. The work reconnects beauty, violence and representation, and suspends the scene outside time. Urgency is lost, and observation is rewarded.

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Cris Brodahl
June 18, 2010, by Catherina Wagley

Cris Brodahl’s current exhibition at Marc Foxx Gallery does not shy away from representing the race with death. In fact, it does so in a way that is both cliched and stunningly insidious. Called Waiting Room, the exhibition includes oil paintings, ceramic wall pieces, and mirrors, all of which depict or reflect fleshy skulls–though Brodahl’s approach to fleshiness has more in common with Ryan McGinley’s than Jenny Saville’s.
Waiting Room feels quietly controlled at first glance, though an Elizabeth Bishop poem of the same title speaks of “the sensation of falling off/the round, turning world.” The color scheme is understated: sepias, grays, soft pinks. The canvases are framed with wood strips. The mirrors are perfectly clean and slightly tinted. The composition of each painting is sensible and unsurprising. The skull in Waiting Room, for instance, sits right at the center of the the sea of gray. The woman in The Clock, who wears a skull cloaked skirt, has the graceful, front-and-center gravitas of a Degas dancer.
The predictability of Brodahl’s images contradicts their eerie instability. Face, skin and skull have been pieced together in a way that makes bones seem like flesh and flesh seem like a pastiche of paper-smooth planes and curves. In Wait, a rosy image that features a hollow floating head, the skin of a peaceful face covers an empty cavity, not unlike the cavity inside an empty skull. In Next, a skull grows on the outside of an elegant woman’s face, obscuring her features with barnacle-like jaws and foreheads. Brodahl out-waits death by confusing flesh with bone and piecing together bodies that don’t quite make sense (the face in Wait has fingers for a forehead). If death doesn’t know what it looks like, than can it ever really appear?

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