Between you and me: Four models in the studio
21.05.22 - 30.07.22
Since the mid 1990s, Joni Brenner has worked with four long term models, all men. Common to all four experiences is a specific relational act of producing portraits: two bodies in a room, engaged in an encounter rooted in looking and being looked at. These dialogical encounters are repeated and durational – each sitting lasting a few hours, once or twice a week and over many months or years.
Fundamentally different from any other kind of portrait making setting, the exchange of regards allows for a type of immersive, intersubjective likeness to emerge rendering portraits that are ambient and durational rather than snapshot and certain.
The catalogue that accompanies this exhibition contains an essay written by the artist, in which she reflects on this relational practice to which she has returned over and again. ‘It takes a long time to be able to look back’ she notes, and her essay traces some of the key concerns that have remained central to her practice, as well as the subtle shifts in the portraits over the years.
There is an undeniable yearning for connection underpinning these portraits, made in a shared private space, with two people spending time together in an experience where, as Paul Valery observes, ‘once gazes interlock, there are no longer quite two persons and it’s hard for either to remain alone’. But Brenner also reflects on her long term practice through which her grip, her scrutiny, her stare at these others moves from an anxious impulse to fight against or prevent loss (‘...it is all passing, and this is the only reason for wanting to preserve it’), to a lighter though still fragile capacity, to let be. To be with. For the viewer then, being among these portraits is akin to being with the models in slow and unfolding time.
The mediums used in Brenner’s portraits are metaphorical and point to conceptual themes that have long been present in her work. She discusses this in her essay: ‘The unfired clay sculptures with their ability to crumble and return to dust; the heavy stone with its inbuilt permanence and longevity, against which the oil paint seems so much more alive; the wax casts and surfaces which refer to preservation and embalming; the plasticine sculptures with their capacity to be squashed and destroyed; the watercolours on stone which carry the terrifying and always imminent possibility of being washed away’. There are also plaster casts, four of which are included in this exhibition, which carry references to the memorialising function of death-masks. All of these mediums connect to the idea that portraits occupy that threshold between life and death — made to affirm a life, they also map the passing of time.
The four models represented in this exhibition are:
Wilson Mootane who was Brenner’s only sitter for seventeen years from 1993 until his death in 2010.
Fred Glick who is also one of Brenner’s earliest collectors, modelled for a period of ten months in 2012 before relocating back to the USA. During lockdown he posed for her again via WhatsApp.
Scott Hazelhurst, who is Brenner’s husband, began sitting for her in 2012 and this practice continues.
Charles Bothner, whose wife commissioned one portrait for his birthday in 2018. They are still busy.