Alison Erazmus, director of University Art Galleries, said although displaying the art by Chicago-based painters Phyllis Bramson and Adam Scott might be offensive to some people, she wants to exhibit exemplary work.
“I never know what will offend people,” Erazmus said. “I can either assume everything is going to offend someone and then be scared by that and censor myself, or I can put good art in the space because this is the kind of artwork that I respect and these are the artists I want to work with and represent in the space.”
Bramson and Scott’s works are now on display in the John A. Day Gallery in the Warren M. Lee Center for the Fine Arts until Nov. 27.
Bramson will also give a lecture about her career and influences Nov. 10 at 4 p.m.
Some of the works could be considered controversial because they deal with the themes of eroticism, Erazmus said.
When people discuss issues of love, intimacy and even violence, they have to understand that these artists are not perpetuating that in a negative way, Erazmus said.
“The artists are trying to explore a theme and a concept that is very real to us all,” Erazmus said. “We all understand what it’s like to want to be physically intimate with someone. A very select group of people in this society probably still want to pretend that that’s not integral to life, but it is so much a part of who we are as human beings, yearning to touch and be touched.”
The hostility usually has to do with misunderstanding the narrative, Bramson said.
“Somebody either likes the work or they don’t. There’s really no in-between,” Bramson said. “When people say things to me, I say ‘I think you’re over-reading or misreading.’ I’ve had to defend a lot of artists who use sexual innuendos in their work. My work is much tamer than any of theirs.”
Bramson said everybody has rights to their opinions and the aspect of eroticism is very prevalent in younger artists.
“Because I’m older and I look at other things, I’m interested in all of the different aspects of romantic love — the good, the bad and the ugly,” Bramson said.
Erazmus said it’s perfectly natural to start with an emotional response to artwork.
“You hate it, you love it, but then critical people will go farther than that and ask themselves ‘why do I feel that way?’ and start to understand what starts that reaction,” Erazmus said. “When I look at artwork, and it offends me, I have to stop myself and ask ‘why?’ ‘Am I supposed to be offended?’ ‘Are they trying to get a rise out of me?’ ‘Am I bringing my own assumptions to what I think good art is and what good art should be?’ A lot of audiences, I don’t know if they do that.”
Senior Zach DeBoer works for the art gallery and helped prepare the gallery for the exhibit.
“It’s phenomenal and really eye catching,” DeBoer said. “You walk in and it’s a brand-new place. We painted the walls, which is something that hasn’t been done in the last 10 years.”
Erazmus said the works are playful because they have an animated characteristic to them.
“Most of (Bramson’s) compositions include very warm scenarios of cartoon characters, although they’re not recognizable like Mickey Mouse,” Erazmus said. “(Scott’s) work is incredible to look at because of the colors. He’s creating narrative, representative work of similar things that Phyllis does, where there’s a fantastical world and an allusion to the cartoon.”
Although Bramson and Scott’s works are similar in the way they use color, they are both separate and distinguishable artists, Erazmus said.
“(Scott’s) work is very provocative too,” Erazmus said. “His use of color is so alluring. (Bramson) is very subtle with glitter in the paint. (Scott) is very much a painter’s painter, even though he doesn’t use a paintbrush.”
DeBoer said Bramson and Scott are well known in the contemporary art scene.
“(Bramson’s) work is about mythology and uses cartoons, so it’s childish in a way,” DeBoer said. “There’s an underlying dark tone despite the fact that she uses bright colors and glitter in some of her work. Scott does the same thing. It’s bright cartoon images but there’s an underlying darkness about it. I saw that he described it as an LSD trip gone bad, which was pretty dead on.”
Bramson said she has always worked with the shape of the human body.
“It was really common in the area of California so that gave me an interest,” Bramson said. “At this point it’s much more interesting. Prominently working with the figure is part of a larger profession.”
Having two successful artists at USD will give students a different perspective, Erazmus said.
“The students will see different styles and different approaches,” Erazmus said. “Maybe they’ll want to start using the techniques of collage or pouring the paint on a canvas. This is different because you’re seeing people work with the surface of the canvas in two distinct ways and they are successful in their executions.”
Erazmus said it’s very easy in classes to just do still-life and not become engaged with the media students are working with.
“People need to be critically aware of why they are going to be a visual artist over another artist where they could make more money and have a better chance of getting a job,” Erazmus said.
DeBoer said getting critiques from a well known artist will help students grow.
“Anytime you can interact with a well known artist one on one and discuss your own work is a bonus,” DeBoer said. “It’s an honor to have a professional quiz you about your own work.”
It’s much more difficult right now for anyone wanting to be an exhibiting artist, Bramson said.
“You really have to want it,” Bramson said. “When I went to school, it was just something you did and you didn’t have to worry about it. What I think is really troubling is that if you don’t live in New York or Los Angeles, you might not have quite the same career.”
Bramson said she is amazed by how much art there is outside of major cities.
“It’s just not possible for everyone to do that,” Bramson said. “You have to figure out how to carve a life that has meaning. It’s a very challenging profession. What has shocked me is that it doesn’t get
Bramson said she is still fighting for things and becoming disappointed and sometimes happy from what happens in her career.
“It’s not a piece of cake; there’s no guarantees,” Bramson said.
Erazmus said it will be good for students to interact with an artist with so much acclaim.
“It’s easy to get stuck in a bubble and that’s why we bring in artists like this and bring artwork into the gallery,” Erazmus said.
Erazmus said students can’t create in a vacuum. They have to see different and challenging kinds of work, even if it offends them or they don’t get it. Students need to be challenged by their professors and the art they see and critically engage with it, she said.
“We could fill this gallery with nothing but really pretty impressionist landscape and I don’t think it will teach the students anything,” Erazmus said.
Anytime an artist comes, it’s really interesting to hear them talk about their work, DeBoer said.
“You can read an artist’s statement or a description of their work, but when you hear it coming out of their own mouth it gives you a greater understanding to why they made the work and what the work is about,” DeBoer said.
Reach reporter Emily Niebrugge at Emily.K.Niebrugge@usd.edu.