Multimedia drawings act as a 'visual diary'
Sprawling show a study of 'muddle' inside artist's head

Gilbert Bouchard

Friday, June 15, 2007

by Blair Brennan
Showing at: SNAP Gallery, Edmonton, Alberta

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Renowned sculptor and installation artist Blair Brennan talks about Sacra Privata, his most recent SNAP Gallery exhibit, in intimate terms.

"I've been describing the work as a kind of visual diary; a study of the muddle inside my head which includes all these confusing scenes and lots of repetition of motifs."

And when Brennan says his large body of work is exhaustive, he means exhaustive. The multimedia drawings almost completely cover every wall of the compact 97th Street gallery. He drew the first of them in 1990 and has produced the rest on a regular basis ever since. (The show's most recent work was made just four days before the exhibit opened.)

The subject matter is as broad, diverse and personal as the show is expansive.

He works with found images as well as drawings riffing off various sources and different handmade stencils. The show's images are culled from myriad visual sources that fascinate or are meaningful to Brennan, including some drawings he did in collaboration with his daughters. Sources of inspiration and/or visual motifs include comic strips, toys, Mexican wrestling masks, advertising flyers, and contemporary and historical literary texts he finds significant.

Brennan loves to incorporate writing and text into his work, in recent years going as far as to build artistic branding irons that he uses to burn texts onto chunks of rawhide and gallery walls. The SNAP Gallery drawings include found snatches of text from books, magazines and comics as well as handwritten text, typewritten copy (created from Brennan's huge collection of typewriters) and words created by the letter-press and label guns.

Some of the drawing work was even produced as commemorative work to mark the death of different artists including a series of work done to mark the death of playwright Arthur Miller.

The title Sacra Privata was something he came across in the book Practice of Witchcraft Today by B.C. poet and occultist Robin Skelton. It perfectly addressed the tight personal scope of the show and the quasi-religious devotion that went into making every drawing.

The Latin phrase was used to describe the private religious rites of ancient Romans, including the highly personalized worship of household gods. It reflects the meditative, ritualistic approach Brennan used in creating the repetitive drawings.
"The show celebrates the fact that you, as an artist, live in the world and are bombarded with images and words all the time. In some ways, all art-making is a way to make sense of the world."

The sprawling nature of the show and its diversity go against the grain of the idea of a unified body of artistic work, but Brennan likes the fact the exhibit is broad to the point of contradiction.

"I've been exhibiting my work since 1980, so I'm confident enough in my career as an artist that I don't have to make myself obvious in all my work. I'm not obsessed with having all my work looking like a 'Blair Brennan' piece."

© The Edmonton Journal 2007