By MCKENZIE MORGAN October 29, 2020
The search for peace and truth might sound elusive, but abstract artist Chris Brandell has not only found these for herself but also offers these experiences in her serene body of work. With her minimalistic and geometric style, Brandell’s work opens her audience to the profundity of empty spaces and an ongoing search for meaning.
Before diving into the world of abstract art, Brandell was an accomplished entrepreneur and businesswoman, owning her own government contracting company in Virginia. Though Brandell had held a paintbrush in her hand since she was a child, it wasn’t until 2012 that she was pushed by her friend, an interior designer, to show her work to the public.
In 2019, Brandell sold her business to start her career as a full-time artist and has been looking forward ever since. During her first few months diving headfirst into the waters of the art world, Brandell did feel some trepidation as she removed herself from the safety of a routine and steady income.
“I had been wanting—really like in my bones and in my body—to do this for a long time,” she recounts. “It might’ve taken me maybe three to six months to kind of get into my groove to the point where I now know I would never ever go back.”
Once she decided to focus solely on her art, Brandell noticed that there was a striking dichotomy between her business and artistic sides. She was able to put her networking skills to use once she got to exhibiting and selling her work (she’s represented across several galleries), but she also had to unlearn some habits.
“Business is all about thinking,” she says. “My artistic work is not so much about thinking in that sense, it's much more spontaneous and organic.”
Brandell’s process is a unique one. Canvases of different mediums and sizes lay on her studio floors and line her walls, some propped up by old paint buckets and some rest on easels. She began playing around with different techniques in her art early on, eventually stumbling across her favorite: painting blindfolded.
Learning about this technique from a friend, it’s become a way for Brandell to connect herself with her paintings, gliding her brushes from intuition, emotion, and memory. “It helps me eliminate my brain and my thinking mind and allows me to just feel the experience of the painting,” she says.
While painting blindfolded, one naturally expects there might be blindspots visible on the canvas, but Brandell embraces the empty spaces. “I'm very interested in exploring the simplicity of the composition,” she says. “I love the story that's told in the empty spaces.”
Brandell finds something symbolic in space and what can lie within it. While most of us might be afraid of empty spaces (just like empty time) and force ourselves to fill them, Brandell believes in discovering new things within a moment of pause. In this sense, they are not voids, they are places free of constraint, full of possibilities.
Brandell herself takes the time to step back and take a moment to feel what a particular piece evokes. That’s exactly what Brandell wants her audiences to experience with her paintings: a pause. “It gives them the platform to have a moment of pause or a moment of peace,” she says about her work. “I want them to find the work meditative.”
Brandell often draws motifs from ancient cultures, translating, in particular, the practices and imagery of Zen Buddhism into her work. Fascinated by the Buddhist practice of Enso—the meditative practice of creating an unrestrained circle from two brushstrokes—what began as something she did in her private life eventually began to be incorporated into her larger work.
While Brandell paints with abstraction in mind, she still believes that there is an obligation to the truth in her art. “I think that a well-composed abstract is a natural evolution from the truth and you have to be in truth to paint it,” she says.
The truth doesn’t remain concrete but rather it’s ever changing, according to Brandell. “Our truth is only our own interpretation of it,” she says. “For me, I have to be in my own truth to get it on the canvas.” This gesture of moving from the personal to the universal is not only relevant in her paintings, but a reminder of art’s role in our lives.
Brandell’s work isn’t finished until she takes that final step back to remove the blindfold. With what she calls child-like innocence, she admires what she was able to achieve with just her instincts and a paintbrush. She might fix a mark here and there or make her brushstrokes more subtle, but she trusts that the work met her in that blind space for a reason.
Most painters make their final touches with their last brush strokes or smoothing on varnish, but Brandell goes beyond that. She sends off each of her paintings with a blessing. Putting her hand to the painting, she says a prayer to bring joy into the next owner’s space and then signs her name.
“I want them to bring joy to each individual, however somebody interprets that, and I want it to be a moment of reflection,” she says. As Brandell finds serenity in her work, she hopes that each painting can do the same for others.
Brandell’s work makes you stop and catch your breath for a moment, drawing you in. It’s easy to lose yourself in the cool-toned shapes and empty spaces of her canvases, finding comfort in those breaks from our daily lives. WM
McKenzie Morgan is a freelance writer living in Philadelphia, PA.view all articles from this author