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Brian Bress counters his disarming wit with self-assured complexity through a multifaceted approach that integrates sculpture, costume, set design, performance, collage, and video. For an artist troubled by existential questions, self-deprecation and caricature are persuasive strategies for relegating mythic visions of the artist at work to slapstick portraits of unskilled, simplified activities.
In Bress’s six-channel video installation 370 Cover (2015), Sol LeWitt meets Pee-wee’s Playhouse, and minimalist painting becomes goofy demonstration. A masked character with two googly eyes, donning the black and white stripes of a cliche jailbird, cuts out geometric forms in the center of six separate striped walls, positioned between his body and the camera. Borrowing from LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #370 (1982), the character completes his task by literally aligning and misaligning his head with the cut-out shapes in the wall. He thereby breaches the mythical fourth wall that separates performer from viewer, and in this case, painting from video.
If compressing unlikely forms into a comprehensive whole seems tactfully difficult, Bress’ Organizing the Physical Evidence (Purple) (2014), deftly interweaves nonsensical child’s play with Bauhaus astuteness. This dual-channel video seems to be a mash-up of Mr. Potatohead and Oskar Schlemmer. Two characters in costumes reminiscent of Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet (1922) exchange handmade, abstracted facial features across a divide of monitors. The sculptural objects acting as toy parts and the video monitors posing as paintings are physical evidence of the artist’s simultaneous admiration and uncertainty for modernist ideals. Bress disguises himself in caricatures and absurd gestures that breach conventional notions of medium specificity, as much as they belie simplistic classifications of artistic identity.
Brian Bress: Make Your Own Friends ran August 6-December 4, 2016 at Orange County Museum of Art (850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660).