Familiar as Strange: The Paintings of Maya Brym
Essay by Emily Weiner
I came upon Maya Brym’s rare breed of paintings by chance. I was flipping though a magazine, and her works reproduced within gave me pause. They stuck out as odd for our time. Hybrids of still life, abstraction, and nature painting, these pictures radiated a kind of psychological intensity akin to Georgia O’Keeffe or Henri Rousseau—artists whose singular styles bucked the trends of their days. Brym’s own nature imagery (of ivy silhouetted in dark shadows, moth wings dissolving in air, anemone-like flower blossoms) imparted an impression of subtle movement, and these quivering images stayed with me.
I visited her Brooklyn studio soon after, and the in-person encounter was even more striking: most of them modest in size, the paintings seemed particularly charged, yoking elements of the commonplace and the epic in strange, liminal spaces. White Rose, for example—one of the littlest but most commanding paintings—zooms in on the open face of a flower, white and glowing as if lit by moonlight. Its petals are transparent and luminous, at once vulnerable and ambitious.
In a larger canvas titled Cellar Light, a vase ornamented with calligraphic brushstrokes sits before a metal gate, whose industrial doors shut over a tangle of foliage (perhaps a nod to a wilder, more carefree chapter slipping out of reach). Here, as in other paintings, rather tame subjects become stand-ins for figures ensnared in indescribable mental states.
As in a dream, Brym’s imagery toggles between abstractions and identifiable forms that never resolve into stable constructions. Her newest works, like Compound, dig deeper into the idea of architecture in flux, representing houses that seem to fold in on themselves or open up into alternate dimensions. These compositions start from collaged source photographs, but in their painting they drift into new territory: “It’s the moment that you depart from an image that the painting takes on its own life,” Brym explains. As her paintings reveal, the nature of perception is something fluid, even when the subject perceived is as basic as a home or a leaf on a tree.
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