Brian Bress: Another Fine Mess
Josh Lilley, London
25 May – 27 June, 2018
Review by Alex Bennett
In Brian Bress’s, ‘Landscape Bash’ (2018), a scalpel splices a collaged canvas of 19th century pastoral painting, revealing a kaleidoscopic verso. Its shorn folds flop over, slowly revealing Bress fully costumed in the original idyllic collage, including his head formed of a faceless, mouthless cuboid block with beady eyeballs. That the lolling materiality in ‘Landscape Bash’ is contained within high-definition video demonstrates Bress’s long-held interest in the surface: as canvas, as screen, as skin.
Another Fine Mess opens with four material results with videos such as ‘Landscape Bash record’. Bress has long been casting characters, almost always himself in costume, into videos carefully composed with subtle pathos. In these, the modes have grown more sophisticated with focus on the narrow confines of portraiture of tightly framed figures, their goofy attitude streamlined into more elegant displays with the scale of each character’s body relative to our own.
In ‘Rabbis #1 (on pastel gift wrap)’ (2018), a triptych, a figure sketches a segment of one larger scene on each screen. The figures are costumed, creamy soft and foamy; they are mute, communicating only through erasable doodles on the transparent screens. The content is resolutely material: worms clumsily dotted with eyes and smiles nestle in soil; deliberately inscrutable diagrams, charts, and graphs; beribboned dogs, winners of a dishevelled grooming contest. A lugubrious sadness in their appearance frames them less as characters and more as creatures, trapped in an endless cycle. With each finished sketch, one recognises a faint satisfaction in the character as they observe their creation, their pride as transient as the eliminable drawing itself.
Shorn clean of the chaos of blood and guts, Another Fine Mess is aptly titled; as more sophisticated Pillsbury Doughboys in their cushiony, whipped-white attire, what else would one expect from the imagination of these men than a desire for matter and risible thoughts?
In ‘Organizing The Physical Evidence (gradients on compliment solids’ (2018), two gradient toned figures adorn their featureless trapezoid blockheads with postmodernist fragments, like a facial cornicing. While in, ‘371 Color’ (2018), the four-channel video shows a jigsaw being taken to a linear multi-coloured board, cutting a hollow shape to match Bress’ mask, whose eventual reveal flattens the surface once more. Though it carves a blunt illusionism of space, it lacks the humour of expression, its cookie-cutter technique too on-the-nose to allow gestural flair.
By drawing, these figures betray their construction becoming garrulous characters with a gnomic charm, contradicting their distant, dour impression on screen. In Rabbis #1, they also each sketch a self-portrait, delivering a window on the form: that to show how others see us is also to show how we see ourselves. That this is delivered by Bress performing as three characters shows the central foil of the show, but this frustration appears sincere, implying our individual artifices are more illuminating than any essentialist criteria. Self-invention has its limits, yet these self-portraits attest to something weirdly anthropological, their slippery communication touching that soft spot of contact.