May 5–June 18, 2023
Tim Brawner’s Glad Tidings at Management sustains horror past its breaking point. In his exploration of genre through the passages of B-movie horror reels and its more recent evolution into online creepypasta, the artist is able to fixate on the tremulous imagery of jumpscares and translate a clever act of self-negation into painting. What is shed, what is stayed, and what new tension is currently relayed?
There are similarities shared between art and the genre of horror. Both art and horror have a way of reminding us of The Real, which according to Lacan is our prenatal experience of nature before the mirror stage. This dissociative state that exists before we are able to establish our sense of self; it contaminates the border of ourselves and prefigures the corpse, the body shifting to object. While art and horror cannot directly access The Real, which is accessed through trauma, they can trace its perimeter, acknowledging its presence by framing its Void. Our attraction to the almost-human subjects that interest Brawner and to the subreddits and Instagram accounts that archive B-movie monsters and alien sightings deliver a similar thrill. The truly horrific monster delivers a basal amygdalic nerve-tapping of un-incorporation, of ambiguity, and the sublime panic each entails as we are reminded of a reality beyond the edge of our sense of self. This mood that the humanoid of horror cultivates through vampires, zombies, and aliens unearths what is kept absent in our minds.
By painting these images, Brawner is able further to dissolve the bones of the corpse through idiosyncratic touch. The artist’s beading of paint enacts a kind of aesthetic perversion. Perversion, according to Lacan, is a grammatical issue, a rejection of structure. The artist’s weird pearls of paint break the illusion of the airbrushed images—revealing the artifice of the process with such force that it reconditions our seeing—the same way that Peter Saul, Christina Ramberg, or Ray Yoshida’s textures can. It is this stippling, which also contextualizes Brawner’s practice as a cognoscente of fringe taste, that approaches the avoided interstice between living and dead. It is somewhere in between, both/and, with Eros and Thanatos, and represents a presence of the other that repels our illusion. It’s easier to know the absence through the clearly recognizable other, and the stippling calibrates us to sensing the image’s unraveling. In Semiochem (all works 2023) Brawner saves the beaded paint for the feast set before the dull Nosferatu—dilating our attention away from the subject and towards the strange neon glow of ironic vanitas.
By painting the paused moment of what would be the jump scare in film, Brawner is sustaining a moment not intended to be considered. It extends the premonition of the glance beyond the point of breaking, the same way that pausing a horror movie breaks the mood, cheats its scare, freeze-frames it into bathos. It anneals the shock while substantiating what is kept hidden in the shadows. Brawner’s painted screamers and vampires are reminiscent of the functions of agalma, whose necessity exist in their ability to transfer or bind an excess of psychic energy. Although situated in horror, Brawner circumvents the slasher and instead depicts the bad makeup of Hammer films and cult horror. Unearthly visages are trapped and transfixed, confusing the lookers-out and the lookers-on in cold black worlds. Perhaps they are our own strange tulpas screaming back at us, ashamed and afraid of us, submerging and saturating us in perpetual colic.
One image stands out for its difference. In The Escape III, Harry Dean Stanton anxiously grips the wheel, barreling towards or away from something. It feels like the get-away at the end of the slasher film in the context of the other paintings, but if interpreted on its own, it could just as easily be the isolated experience of an emotional breakdown in transit. If horror and its mood are meant to cathartically jettison our fear beyond our boundary, freeze-framing doesn’t quite do the trick. The agalma-ability of the frozen B-movie is negated, repulsed back into the gallery space. Neither scared nor attracted, the paintings trap our release. We walk out with our anxiety where it was, white knuckling the wheel as we speed toward the unknown, aware of the Other and our fear of it; aware of our ability to become the mob, our incessant consideration and affective pull toward it. We leave just as unsettled as we were.