Disintegration proves fascinating in ‘Portraits’ exhibition

Sam II by Andrew Brandmeyer

By Sarah Weinman

Andrew Brandmeyer’s exhibition “Portraits” at the Fine Arts Gallery at Fontbonne University is a somber, poignant commentary on the human condition. In his portraits, Brandmeyer “distort[s] his subjects to convey a sense of physical and emotional distress.” His pieces also touch on the themes of psychological disintegration and loss of identity. 

One striking example is “The Mask”, a 16” x 20” oil painting on panel. It depicts a white theater-style mask on a black and gray surface, perhaps a table or counter. An alternate reading of the piece may interpret the gray as surface and the black as a void, perhaps a reference to psychological absence. A piece of brown cardboard lies under the forehead of the mask. The mask has simplified, distorted features: its right eye is higher than its left, the nostril is one slit instead of two holes, and the mouth is open too wide. Though the mask is an inanimate object, it seems to display a shocking depth of human emotion.

This kind of disintegration extends to the motif in a number of portraits in which the sitters have bags over their heads. These portrayals have many interpretations: the hiding of the self and/or of one’s emotions; repression; fear of being oneself; abduction and torture; or entrapment. 

In other portraits, the faces of the sitters seem to come apart before our eyes. These images may explore ideas about the loss of identity, what makes someone who they are.

The face of the female sitter in “Sam II” (graphite on mat board, 19” x 24”) seems to slide into nothingness. The mat board has been torn into the shape of a rectangle (as have almost all mat boards in the show). Its shredded edges contribute to the overall sense of fragmentation. Sam sits in three-quarter view and looks to her left. Her expression is hard to read; it could be blank or mournful. Her dark hair is up in a bun on top of her head. The left side of her face breaks up in horizontal smears of white, gray, and black, as if someone swiped the portrait with a wet hand.

“Andrew Brandmeyer: Portraits” is on view at the Fine Arts Gallery through March 16. The gallery is located in the Fine Arts Building off Big Bend Blvd. south of Wydown. Gallery hours are Monday – Thursday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Saturday, noon – 4 p.m. For more information, call 314-719-3620 or visit https://www.fontbonne.edu/academics/departments/fine-arts-department/fine-arts-gallery/.

A St. Louis native, Sarah Weinman writes a visual arts blog for the Light (http://www.stljewishlight.com/art).