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Seager Gray Gallery presents Haven, an exhibition of paintings by artist Kay Bradner. The exhibition runs from April 1 through April 30. There is a reception for the artist on Saturday, April 1 from 5:30 to 7:30 pm open to the public. A full color catalog of the exhibition will be available for sale.
There is no mistaking the work of Kay Bradner with its crisp incised images on aluminum contrasted by areas of satisfying abstraction. Asked about the title of the exhibition the artist explained, “I have been thinking of our personal ways of creating safe havens in this large world.” In an earlier exhibition, entitled “Aloft,” Bradner painted flying dreams in our awake lives – hang gliders, sails and birds. “This show is similar,” explains Bradner, “like our paths to the feelings of elevation, our ways of creating a life that feels secure is personal and if we are lucky, is intertwined with feelings of freedom and joy.”
This exhibition represents a return to the gallery after a six year hiatus that was dense with both loss and transformation for the artist. The exhibition scheduled for 2013 had to be postponed after the passing first of Kay’s housemate, Gladys Howland and then her mother in 2012. Bradner had been both caretaker and roommate to Gladys, a former neighbor who had been blind since 1967. When Howland took a fall that caused her to need more care, Bradner moved in and set up her studio in the basement. Gladys passed away after reaching her 100th birthday. Shortly after, Kay’s own mother took a fall and died just months after Gladys. Bradner was forced to cancel the proposed one-person exhibition and needed time. “I was a little lost,” said the artist. “I wanted to find myself again in my art.” She wanted to be able to paint, not for a show, but for herself. “I think we are all searching all of our lives for ourselves,” she reflected, “for me the best way was to make art.”
The paintings began with images of treetops. She created long horizontal paintings of the tops of trees that she hung high in the room where she painted. She loved the comfort of looking up into the trees. That beginning was a kind of epiphany for Bradner. She realized how much we see the world at eye level and she set about to purposely create images from high and low vantage points. The results were glorious paintings like “Sixteen Birds” and “Ten Birds” where treetops are illuminated with streams of sunshine exposing the clear images of small colorful bird perched on their branches.
Other paintings, like “Haven” and “Two to One” take the opposite vantage point, looking down from a high place. In the case of “Haven” we find ourselves looking on a harbor of tiny little boats from the point of view of graceful pelicans moving overhead. “Haven”, in particular shows how Bradner’s unique style is informed by her many years as a master printmaker. The background is actually abstract with pressed areas of pigment much like a monotype. The birds and boats are then carefully incised the way an etching might be created.
After studying at New York University and the California College of the Arts, Bradner spent years as a master print maker, working with well-known artists at her own Katherine Lincoln Press, named for her grandmother. When that business ended, she focused on her own art and career, painting in ways that no one has ever painted before.
“Fitted Sheets” is a particularly Bradner kind of work. The artist has a love of materials and the way they play in natural light. The billowing pink sheets are reminiscent of earlier works Bradner did with sails, orchestrating transparency and opacity in subtle moments that move from shadow to light. She also loves objects, normal everyday objects and she celebrates their usefulness. The clothespins in this work are from Bradner’s own collection. Some are 100 years old, some 50, some 25. “I have an entire history in clothespins,” she gests. The ladder in “Stripping Wallpaper” is similar, such a marvelous object, a simple machine that is tied both to usefulness and to memory.
As always, Bradner likes to work in series and the series reflect things that she loves - plovers, magnolias, waves. With each work, the artist intensifies her powers of observation, not just of the subject, but of everything around it – how the water looks at low tide at just that moment before it gets absorbed into the sand.
The time was good for Bradner. In March of 2013, she became a grandmother when her daughter Claire gave birth to Lita and then 3 years later brought Felix, Lita’s brother into the world. Lita is the curly-headed little girl in “Newton’s Cradle.” Bradner remembers fondly Gladys exclaiming to her just before she died, “I think I could be happy if I only had a swing.” Here again we see the clearly drawn image upon an abstract background that adds to the total effect.
As C. S. Lewis once wrote, “Sometimes the long way around is the short way home.” Six years after her last one person exhibition, Kay Bradner is back with her unique and generous view of the world and a style and palette all her own. In many ways “Haven“ refers not only to the subject matter of the paintings, but the act of painting itself, a place the artist can go until they are returned safely home. We are glad to have her back.
Seager Gray Gallery
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