Distance and Immanence in the paintings of David F. Brandon - An essay by A-Soma


Art is a representation of the consciousness that conceived it. Other than as a critique of itself, it has no other function. 

The writer and art theorist, Susan Sontag once speculated that ‘real’ art has a capacity to make us nervous. This tenet might be a useful starting point in an appraisal of the painter David F. Brandon’s oeuvre. His signature technique involves manipulating and reinterpreting photographic images via the application of acrylic paint blown by mouth through a diffuser spray onto board (not canvas). This method produces a rich distribution of grain and texture whilst at the same time evoking the silver halide particles of photographic film. He eschews the brushstroke in favour of a process that distances the viewer from the hand of the artist. A style that brings with it connotations of mass production, media and the encompassing sociosphere. 

 Modulation of an image from photography to paint is the chemistry that lies at the heart of this work; a kind of scrying, by which its psychic potency may be divined. Like the 1960’s Captalist Realist work of Gerhard Richter, Brandon works from photographs that reference mundane reality, but they also infer a nostalgic distance or even a dark romance. He has evolved a kind of theatre, in which the resonance of individual paintings is keenest when they are seen staged as a group. This invites cross reading, implied narrative or simply a pleasure in sequence. Recurring motifs, text and the device of diptych and triptych in his pieces, plus considered titles, point up the influence of language. They are gallery show paintings, which require that particular contemplative white space in order to be appreciated as intended. In a sense they are the components of an installation. 

Collectively, they infer a mental world which exists outside their frame, and for which they are mere ciphers. Their cryptic rationale creates unease. These are works that seem to bridle at being pigeonholed as paintings, and that might mock you for even liking them. Their atomised glossy surfaces are radicalised by Brandon’s seemingly blithe impatience with the niceties of painterly discourse and the conformities of sanctioned art. We might find another helpful reference point in the early work of the Spanish painter Juan Genoves - a key influence for Brandon during his student days in London. But, whereas Genoves’ early monochrome studies of the human predicament in groups, or in isolation, has evolved to use the human figure simply as a trigger from which to extrapolate permutations of pure form and colour, Brandon’s remit does not yield such aesthetic safety to the viewer. Even at the edge of abstraction his images still suggest an identifiable and gritty world. His pictures feel intrinsically personal, if subjectively opaque. They can be as discomfiting as the overly intimate presence of a stranger’s body on a crowded train, reminding us that we all exist inside the imperative of our own unknowable world. 

This imperative pervades Brandon’s visual atmospherics. His subjects are studies of isolation as a fact of being, where people, objects and the space that contains them are equally separate in their own immanence. By eschewing painterly concerns, Brandon channels our attention toward the figurative subject, which, impervious, or simply a red herring, directs us back to the painted surface. We are caught in a corridor between surface and content, with a realisation that what we are experiencing may in fact not be art, that perhaps we are being wrong footed. As the writer and filmmaker Alain Robbe- Grillet has written: “If art is anything,” “it is everything; in which case it must be self-sufficient, and there can be nothing beyond it.” 

A-soma, 2011