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History, Mythology and Science Fiction Inspire Larger-than-Life Wall Drawings

By Kristin Sterling

"(B.Ö.C.) Astronomy," 2001, 48 x 85," was on display this fall during Bransford's second solo show at Feature Inc., in New York.

Working on a monumental scale is rare in finished drawings, yet artist Jesse Bransford (SoA '00) has brought his wall drawings, which measure up to 25 by 80 feet, to life in museums and galleries in New York and Los Angeles. In both his large-scale wall drawings and paper drawings Bransford creates sweeping images across time and cultures that reflect his eclectic interests, from ancient mythology, space flight and science fiction to heavy metal music and popular video games.

Two of Bransford's drawings on paper are currently on display in New York. "Study for the Void" (2000) can be seen at the New Museum of Contemporary Art (583 Broadway) in SoHo through Feb. 17, as part of the 2002 additions to the "FRESH: The Altoids Curiously Strong Collection." The collection will then travel across the country before becoming part of the museum's permanent collection. He also has a drawing on display at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery's (39 Greene Street) "Off the Grid" show of works on paper, which runs through Feb. 16. Bonnie Collura, adjunct associate professor in the School of the Arts, is also participating in the show.

Bransford's works draw connections among various historical stages of knowledge, often incorporating astrological charts from the Middle Ages with 21st century rockets. "…when you look at the history of ideas, then you realize that it was all there from the beginning, that every 'new' idea has an analog somewhere in the past," he said in an interview with the gallery Feature Inc., in New York, where he has participated in three group exhibitions and two solo shows.

"Jesse Bransford's work is interesting to me for many reasons, not the least of them the fact that he has taken drawing, which is often relegated to the status of preparatory work, and made it an essential element in these strong, complete, resonating pieces," said Michael Lynne, co-chairman of New Line Cinema and member of the School of the Arts Dean's Council.

The magnitude of these "resonating pieces" is demonstrated in "Corner 02: Hollyhock," the 25 by 80-foot drawing that adorned the UCLA Hammer Museum's lobby wall last summer. This drawing combines the mystical overtones of Frank Lloyd Wright's Hollyhock House in Southern California with imagery from mythology and the 1970s metal band, Blue Öyster Cult.

Full installation view of Bransford's "Corner 02: Hollyhock," approximately 25 x 80', which adorned the UCLA Hammer Museum's lobby walls Summer, 2001.

"The images come across time and cultures," says Bransford. "Of particular interest to me was the idea of having historically diverse representations of people mingling and overlapping in a procession to the bottom of the stairs, led by images from medieval woodcuts of death, in the tradition of the medieval 'dance of death.' "

The historical procession includes images of warriors, princesses and an astronaut under the backdrop of ancient celestial maps. In this piece, the surface of the walls could represent time, and as such, the corner could be the threshold of death. The position of the unicorn, a western symbol of purity and eternity, could then be seen as rebirth in a new form. Finally, the Hollyhock motif, which spans both sides, becomes symbolic of the joining of the two surfaces, or the states of life and death.

How does an artist create a piece of this magnitude? After much research, the development progressed through several media, including computer files, an architectural installation and photographic reproductions. It took Bransford nearly two weeks, and two tiers of scaffolding, to render the images on the walls through a combination of "the ancient art of the grid" and the modern assistance of an opaque projector.

Bransford's next large-scale wall drawing is currently under development and will be on display at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, Pa., March 16 through June 9, as part of the Museum's "Forums" project series. For this very large, 16 by 118-foot piece, Bransford plans to adapt images of art in the museum's galleries and artifacts from their Museum of Natural History's collection, such as amphibians and dinosaurs, in conjunction with his signature references to pop culture and science fiction.

"Jesse's brilliance is in the un-hierarchical attitude that he adopts towards the symbols and images that he uses to create his large scale drawings and wall murals. His hybrid creations combine varied references to form poetical tar pits of visual information," says Jon Kessler, chair of the Visual Arts Division.

Over the past two years, Bransford's work has been shown at the Torch, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; ArtPrecess, Paris, France; Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; PS1 Institute for Contemporary Art, Long Island, New York, and M du B, F, H & g, Montreal, Quebec.

Published: Feb 15, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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