To see some of Zoe's work from the exhibition click here.
Zoe Bray's major solo exhibition of her paintings entitled, Intimacy, is showing at the Sheppard Contemporary Gallery, in the Fine Art Department of the University of Nevada, Reno campus. The exhibition is on until the 18th of February. Open weekdays only, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Zoe will be giving an artist lecture for her exhibition on February 7th in Room 153 of the Fine Arts Department., 5:30-6:30 pm. Reception to follow at the Sheppard Contemporary Gallery.
Essay by Rachel Armstrong, Curator of Intimacy
Intimacy is a complicated notion. The portrayal of intimacy, even more so. Zoe Bray's paintings strike with a serenity and solitude that beg the viewer to search for depth. It is often in our moments of solitude that we can dare to confront ourselves and recognize our own humanity, and in lieu of the tradition of the solitary artist, it is quite another thing to be left alone with another person, and yet this is the essence of Bray's work. This honesty becomes the vehicle through which we can begin to understand one another.
As she sits with her models for hours on end, often eye-to-eye, Bray translates her impression into paint and asks the viewer to follow her into her exchange with the sitter. The process is a type of communion, a prolonged engagement. "We're working at something together," Bray says, each one collaborating to create the piece. The focus of her attention leads the viewer to the inner life of her subjects. But there is an even greater depth to Bray's endeavors.
Art has historically played the role of presenting models for how individuals in societies should and should not act, what they should be and how they should present themselves. Bray's paintings not only reference this artistic and anthropological history, but in addition act as an austere window into the life of an individual. Each piece is a moment caught, a still frame of a conversation, one page of a memoir. When we are confronted, face to face with an image of a person, our reaction should be a powerful reminder of the extent to which our notion of individual identity is vested in our visual perceptions. In Evelyn Payne Hatcher's discussion of art and anthropology she notes that "on an intuitive level, one feels that human figures, made by the artist of a society tell us something about themselves… something of a people's idea of what it means to be a human being". These are renderings of what is, not what should be. They are meant to, as Bray puts it, "evoke the person and life as it is, frankly and without artifice, and still with beauty".
The effusion of indulgent self-expression has lured many artists away from their primary historical roles; roles that are vitally important to the health of our societies. These are the roles of critic, historian, preserver and purveyor of culture, psychological and sociological barometer, visionary. These essential practices are what refine us. It is through these means that we know who we are and where we have been, and find insight into our future.
Portraiture is intrinsically the intersection of history, biography, and artistic practice. In each of her paintings, Bray captures a moment, a feeling, a truth that quickly becomes history. Each is a moment past, but it is from such as these that our present receives its sustenance. It is in these inheritances that anthropology, too, finds its purpose. By reiterating the humanity, the ordinariness, and the domesticity through which we consistently move, these images feed the psyche of both the individual and the culture. In this way, Bray's adherence to traditional portrait painting coincides with her interest in "telling stories about the human condition".
Essay By Christian Thauer, PhD
Identity is central to the work of Zoe Bray, who recently moved to Nevada from Europe to take on a position as assistant professor at UNR's Center for Basque Studies, where she researches and teaches on Art and Politics. Bray paints her subjects directly from life, seeking to go beyond surface appearance and representation to grasp their beauty, spirituality and psychology. Amongst the portraits on show are some notable figures of contemporary Basque culture, including the sculptor Nestor Basterretxea, famed in the American West for his creation of the Basque National Monument to the Sheepherder, located at the foot of the Peavine hills north of Reno. Other individuals Bray painted in different settings, in the United States and in Europe, some in the intimacy of their homes and some in her studio. Most recent, is the portrait of Reno-based contemporary artist Joan Arrizabalaga, famed for her fantastical sculptures relating to gaming and gambling.
Bray comes to Nevada by a round-about way. Born in Paris, she has lived in the United Kingdom, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Mexico and Germany. Just before Nevada, she spent a year between London, the Basque Country, and Berlin where she had her painting studio. This peripatetic life has led Bray to identify with a variety of cultures beyond her French and British citizenship and to become fluent in various languages. After obtaining an MA in Social Anthropology from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in Social and Political Sciences from the European University Institute in Florence, Bray trained as a painter, following the tradition of sight-size that also inspired many early 20th century American painters, notably John Singer Sargent and Cecilia Beaux, but which has largely been lost since. She has also worked with the internationally acclaimed realist painters Antonio Lopez García and Guillermo Muñoz Vera in Spain.
Bray stands out for her unusual combination of ethnography and art. In her quest for deep connection with her subjects, she acknowledges a debt to the traditions of painting, going back to the grace and sensitive delineation of form of the Florentine Renaissance artists. The portraits of Spanish 18th century painter Diego de Velazquez, and especially his depictions of individual members of the Royal Court, have also inspired Bray in her own approach to portraiture, as a frank face to face with her subjects. Many of her portraits have the quality of engaging directly with her audience as the subject's eyes attract those of the viewer. Her sympathetic realism also links her work with that of the American Alice Neel, whose own approach to painting was ethnographic, born out of a desire to directly experience and evoke human life in all its rawness. Beyond this, art for Bray is a continuous search for beauty, all the while grounded and in touch with real life and real people.
Zoe Bray is an artist and a social anthropologist from Europe, working in the realist and naturalist tradition. She paints in oils directly from life. Her work can be found in public and private collections in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, Brazil and the USA.