Chris Brandell’s Intuitive Painting
Chris Brandell is a minimalist abstract painter who used to run her own business until she got in a near-fatal accident and decided to follow her passion for art full-time. Her story, being originally a woman entrepreneur and now minimalist artist inspired by Zen and meditation, is like any other. Brandell’s non-representational paintings consist of linen or canvas that are organically layered with oil, gouache and gesso with marks made using pastel, crayon and graphite. Reflective of her edgy and minimal abstract style, her compositions are born from the freedom of using and applying these, and other materials, in often non-conventional ways.
How did you start painting?
I started painting from the time I was twelve onward. I painted all the time. My parents weren’t very supportive of art as a career. They wanted me to go into business because of money and success – things they identified with only in the non-artistic world. I didn’t give up my painting though. Flashforward to 2012, I finally decided to go public. I applied to a show and was accepted. That truly was the thing that gave me the confidence to believe that my work was good and worthy of being shown.
I was fully engaged in a business by that point, and still not really believing that I could be an artist. I had a few shows. But by 2016, I realized that this was my calling and I should follow it. The business life was great and sustained the material wealth I’ve become accustomed to. But it wasn’t satisfying me anymore. Soon after, I had a serious car accident and almost died. That accident allowed me to review my life in a different way. I had a second chance here to really do what I love and do something meaningful. So, I convinced my business partner that we should sell our company. We did just that almost exactly two years after my accident. I was already painting full time by that point, something like thirty hours a week and still running a business. But, in 2019 I made the actual leap to being a professional artist. You can’t change the way that you come to it, but I wish I would have been an artist my whole life. I know this is what I was supposed to be doing the whole time.
Negative space has an important role in your work, why is that?
It’s always been what I found compelling. In the early years, I wasn’t really working with that much negative space but experimenting with a lot more colors and movement. At that time, the negative space in other people’s artwork always pulled me in. I thought a lot about it and typically, in my work, the more negative space I have the more I end up loving the piece. Sometimes when I get frustrated with a piece, it dawns on me that I need to use white paint and white everything out. This is where the depth of the painting is. It’s the quiet conversation, the story of whatever it is that is moving you when you’re looking at mine or anyone’s painting. The stillness of it is so compelling. Some people still need movement, but for people who appreciate it, they’re able to simply rest their eyes and either insert what they want into it or pull what they want out of it, that relates to their own story and their own being. It’s blank in the sense that it can be anything for anyone. I’m not telling you what to see, I’m letting you create it for yourself.
Could you run us through the creation process of one of your pieces?
I typically work on four or five pieces at a time, depending on how big they are – it could be less because sometimes there’s not enough space in my studio. I do that because I need to stay engaged, and if I’m stuck on one, I can go to another. I always say that my paintings have multiple lives. What happens is, as they build up and come through their process they become many things: they might start more geometric, then the line work takes over and finally, the white space comes up. Because I use a lot of white, people often assume that there is nothing underneath, but if you come closer to the canvas you can actually see the layers showing through the surface. Slowly, over time, the piece will develop into a composition. I’m never really thoughtful in advance about what the composition should look like. I usually start by painting it white and immediately start marking it, just some open marks with a crayon around the edges of the painting, to loosen me up. Those marks will sometimes show through at the end, but they are interesting to me as they start me thinking. The goal is to develop the painting and allow things to grow without a plan.
How do you integrate meditation into your work process?
Something I was told to do is put a blindfold on and mark my painting without using my sight. This is definitely linked to the meditation aspect [laugh]. Meditation has always been part of my process, it brings me to a more peaceful place before starting to paint. Blindfold painting came about as one of my very spiritually focused friends gave me advice when I was stuck in my work. She told me to come back to this blindfolding technique that I already used in the past, but I would resist doing this. My friend said the fact that I was resisting it so hard was the reason why this would work so well for me. The first time, I tied an old stretchy t-shirt around my head and when I took it off I absolutely loved the marks. It was the first time in weeks that I had been happy with what I created. Confronting it– what I was doing– was just allowing my personality to come through. I was stopping my thinking brain and allowing my intuitive feelings to make marks on the painting. It was authentic because I wasn’t trying to control it.