In gesture, expression and the subtle distortion of surface reality, Rebecca Brodskis captures whole lives, tells stories of place and friendship, charts love’s course – from exploration through to performance – as a colour, a tangle of limbs, an embrace, and a dance. For her first exhibition at the Kristin Hjellegjerde gallery in Berlin, she has created a truly immersive experience, a landscape of figures she describes as her characters, fragments of life on canvasses large and small.
Eyes peer from between fingers and within scarves, hands protect, frame and seek comfort, a mother and child in shades of yellow stand in bright sunshine. The mother favours her right leg to compensate for the child’s weight. She listens to a disembodied voice while the child stares at the viewer with an intensity we suspect is familiar to the artist.
When I was a child, my mother was always telling me not to stare. It made people uncomfortable. When we visited my grandmother in Morocco, she gave me the opposite advice. She was an artist. I remember going to the souk with her to buy pigments, mixing them with linen oil. I wasn’t even five when she started teaching me the laws of perspective, teaching me how to see.
Brodskis paints exclusively in oil, on canvasses primed with skin glue – a technique developed and widely used during the Renaissance. Her characters are not lit by an external divine, however, but glow from within with human warmth and mesmerising intensity. People are Brodskis’s subject. People she knows. People she has seen on her journeys through Paris. Some she has dreamed and some she has imagined. Each time she has stopped and stared in wonder, feeling the same irresistible jolt as she recognises her next painting. Back in the studio, she works without photos or models, relying on nothing but the image seared on her mind’s eye. For Brodskis, the greatest advantage of working in oils is the gradual pace they demand.
I have to wait two or three days for one layer of paint to dry before I can return to a painting. It’s no coincidence that so many of my characters are close to life-size. I learn their life stories while I look at them, their joys and fears and hopes.
Each character Brodskis creates is a fully realised individual and each is part of something bigger. Each brought into being by the act of looking, intuitively, conjured slowly in layer upon layer of paint and feeling. Gathered together in Berlin – alone, and in twos and threes – these characters make it possible for us to look through the artist’s eyes, to walk by her side on a journey through worlds both material and intangible.