Daguerreotypes of the Living Dead / by Jeff Hunt

Original Artwork by Bradly Brown

Bradly Brown "Olympiad XVI"   “...And don’t look back — something might be gaining on you.”  —Satchell Paige

Bradly Brown "Olympiad XVI"

“...And don’t look back — something might be gaining on you.”
—Satchell Paige

“He sleeps but he is awakened; he opens his eyes, behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtain and look­ing on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.”
— Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

"We put chemicals in one end so our customers can get memories out the other."
― unidentified former Kodak employee

The wildly versatile multi-media artist Bradly Brown defies expectations, and he does so in perverse, science-fictitious splendor. I’m biased, as he’s not only my creative collaborator but my friend, but this gaunt Texan has the real goods at the farthest flung trading posts: expertly crafted wampum that cloaks value in vivid, secretive layers. His intuitive design skills alone merit high praise; in an era in which graphic artists often succumb to Novocaine levels of digital numbness, Bradly’s work pounces out of two-dimensional confines. If you have a deft sensibility, you can see it breathe and pulsate. Spirits of silver nitrate float; dead voices carry; bestial dystopia beckons.

This is mostly a result of Bradly’s indefatigable and innovative work in the fine arts. Like H. G. Wells’ unfortunate time traveler, he finds himself stuck in two realms at once. MacBook mastery aside, Brown is a 19th century alchemist and a digitally informed clairvoyant, whose obsession is with the most primordial aspects of analogous reproduction. While his peers memorize keyboard commands for the latest version of InDesign, Bradly prowls the mists of time, working with cyanotypes and pinhole cameras and chemically seared photo etchings and murky, secretive daguerreotypes. 

The imagery generated within these formats is haunting and haunted, the long-dead equivalent of Polaroids, tenuous images that rise and then drown in opaque oblivion. This is where Bradly’s true genius smears into faint focus, like the dim projection of a camera obscura. He utilizes archaic technologies of the past and then folds them into the aesthetic of our worldwide present. Many of Bradly’s commercial projects have been clandestine first strikes, in which the old challenges and redeems the new. Simply review his radical visions for the original Modern Primitive, Woody Guthrie: Elegant large-format photography swaps marrow with silver-inked images of phantasmagorical power.

Thematically, Bradly Brown’s work draws a line in the conceptual sand, offering additional taunts and challenges. Again and again, he has perfected a unique form of photo collage in which the heads of wild game animals—tigers, antelopes, boars—are grafted onto the bodies of humans engaged in the most banal of activities. Within his art there lurks some understated and oblique yet subtly withering commentary. Brown’s anthropomorphized creatures echo the horror of modernity, and the savagery. The digital era may float forward in burnished aluminum, but Bradly’s grotesque creatures snap at its heels.

The effect is intensified by the use of temperamental (and carcinogenic) Van Dyke Brown printing on an epic, overwhelming scale – some of Brown’s canvases exceed 12 feet in length. With a final nod to Wells, think of Matthew Brady shipwrecked on the Island of Dr. Moreau, and you’re halfway to the compelling (and frequently creepy) mood Brown effortlessly evokes. For the life of me, I cannot think of another prominent individual for whom the realms of commercial design and fine arts are so intertwined, like a conceptual Mobius strip connecting past and future; requisite commerce and primal impulse.

Jeff Hunt
Austin, Texas
August 2011