Brenda Zlamany, by John Yau (continued)

While Zlamany's techniques recall the dramatic, chiaroscuro lighting of some seventeenth-century Northern European portrait painters, as well as evoke the tactile brushwork and rough surfaces arrived at by some of the Abstract Expressionists, she is neither a nostalgist nor a parodist. Thus, in contrast to many of her peers, who, working in a representational mode, tend to flaunt, exaggerate, or highly stylize their imagery, Zlamany is more disturbingly conscious of time's unavoidable devastations. Consequently, her work is more subtly haunted, more disquietingly remote, and more seductive. It is this latter aspect of her work, its seductiveness, that the viewer might find harrowing. For often what she shows us isn't necessarily a subject, but a specimen, at once beautiful and perfectly preserved.

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Portrait #3 (Christian Eckart), 1993
Oil on panel, 18 x 18 inches

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Portrait #35 (Maurice Payne), 1998
Oil on panel, 78 x 31 inches

Until very recently, the artist depicted her subjects against, and within, a dark, reflective space, which evoked a mirror seen at night. The monochromatic space in which she poses her subject matter tends to be anonymous, sensual, and opulent. It's a hushed world, one that is deductively tactile and yet gloomily opulent. Reminiscent of Caravaggio's penchant for a psychologically charged, dramatically lit atmosphere, Zlamany deliberately controls the passage of dramatizing light, so that it illuminates, as well as collects on and across, the face of body. Zlamany's light seems at once artificial and imaginary, the harshness of spotlights and the glow of warm fleshtones. In contrast to Caravaggio, however, it is not the drama that the body is engaged in that interests Zlamany; it is the very drama of the body or face itself. The viewer isn't confronted by a crucial moment, but by a bright or glowing form which shifts effortlessly and provocatively between paint and illusion, insistent thing and detailed image.

List of Images/Notes