Bugging out: Braun finds splendor in the grass
Most people know local painter Robin Braun for her realistic and evocative seascapes. Now and then, though, she returns to painting tiny scenes, viewed at ground level, where insects are the actors. The main character in these tableaux is usually a bumblebee— sometimes crawling, occasionally flying— that often serves as an autobiographical representation of the artist. In fact, Braun first painted this bee wind-tossed in a storm over the ocean, with no land in sight, to express grief over her father’s death.
Braun’s bugs are back to charm viewers in Angelo’s current exhibition, “Grasses and Insects.” Meticulously painted, the 11 six-inch-square and two larger rectangular oil-on-panel compositions offer a Braun’s eye view of the world, which is, unfortunately, almost too unified. Each of the paintings features a background of tall grass, and although Braun introduces fiddlehead ferns here and curling onion grass-like tendrils there, it is hard to escape the sense of same-ness from one image to the next.
On the other hand, a Zen-like quality emerges, as Braun restricts herself to a limited number of components, choosing only five or six for each painting. Among the repeated elements switched out and re-combined: a honeybee in the upper left corner; a twig extending into the lower left frame; a Queen Anne’s Lace blossom or dandelion also on the lower left; yellow flecks suggesting fireflies; a moth rising toward the upper right; and, of course, the bumblebee, usually facing left as it crawls or flies on the lower or upper right, respectively. In addition, Braun usually alternates between a peach-hued evening sky and pre-dawn blue.
The result is a set of paintings that appear to be variations on the same visual poem. All are expertly executed— the delicate translucence Braun achieves in depicting a dragonfly wing, for instance, is exquisite— but the similar cadence lulls the viewer into inattention.
Which is why the few images that noticeably depart from Braun’s predictable schema are so refreshing. The pink and lavender mottled sky and bee facing right are delightfully different in “Queen Anne’s Lace, Twig, and Bumblebee.” Similarly, the bumblebee’s central position flying across a stormy sky over a field of frothy blossoms in “Queen Anne’s Lace, Bumblebee” is dramatic and eye-opening compared to the other paintings.
Braun’s skill is undeniable, but her bug-a-licious paintings truly take flight when she tiptoes outside the familiar parameters.
Robin Braun’s exhibition, “Insects and Grasses” is on view through April 30 at Angelo, 220 E. Main St. on the Downtown Mall. 971-9256.