It sounds overblown, but Brian Wyers’ recent paintings are a genuine study in the power of the human spirit. I’ve watched this painter and the drama enacted on his canvases paralleling the struggles of his life, so much more than one can possibly speak of in such a short article as this. Brian has said that he “lost everything”, suffering a major illness at the same time he was losing the love of his life.
Last year I wrote a pair of essays on Wyers’ work, fascinated by allegorical depths that remind me of painters such as the symbolists Paul Gaugin or Maurice Denis: 1) Brian Wyers and 2) Wyers subjectivities .
And then there was a radical change, no more symbolism. For the past year Wyers has been florally obsessed, painting enormous canvases. Walking among these big surreal blasts of colour, one seems to be a honeybee in the presence of gods and goddesses, massive fountains of nectar and colour, with deep chiaroscuro crevasses.
They tend to grow on you. Online they’re powerful enough, but in person? Suddenly I am more gnat than honeybee, the honeybee being too exalted and massive a creature, in comparison to these majestic compositions.
I got a big clue from a Facebook remark from one of Wyers’ friends, connecting the garden to Sandra, Wyers’ deceased wife. It’s indelicate to talk about lives, both his and hers, but let me simply state the obvious, that Wyers loved his wife very much and has not only been mourning her passing. If the garden was the Wyers’s special shared place, the exploration of flowers takes on a whole new meaning, as though the paintings were meditations. That the garden was their shared place, however, suggests that maybe these flowers are much more symbolic than I ever understood.
And now Wyers is undertaking human shapes again. In the last week he’s created three different canvases, each a portent of a kind of renewal.
“Solitude” resembles a photo printed in sepia, a cloisonist’s series of blocks, embellished with a humanizing shock of hair falling in the foreground. I invoke the cloisonist because the chunks of colour take us towards the abstract, requiring a moment to resolve the ambiguities into the slightly uncommon composition. Or should I have said “conception” rather than composition? Wyers’ Solitude seems to be emerging from an egg. As with the earlier series of human figure paintings I obsessed about last year, we’re on the boundary between abstract and realist, between dreams and waking.
I only saw Solitude online (that is, via my laptop) last week, but had the pleasure of seeing it in the flesh today. In person? Wow. Jaw-dropping, luscious, and very much alive even though there’s another ambiguity to the form, as we can’t really tell how alive this female form might be.
I spoke earlier of renewal. The next two that I saw –(first via the computer earlier this morning, giving me the urge to go over to see them in Wyers’ studio in person) confirm that assessment.
I don’t know the sequence for these two but they share key features with Solitude, even though they are more differentiated, less abstract. They make me feel that the renewal is progressing out of Solitude’s “egg”, a rebirth of sorts.
Let’s address the two simultaneously. We’re again in the kind of ideal place we’ve seen in the wistfully surreal last half-hour of Tree of Life. One is called “Breathe”, the other “Rapture”. As with Solitude, we have a female form. Where we saw a head in Solitude but saw no sign of wakefulness or motion (indeed, if one were being macabre, there is the slight possibility that Solitude is a portrait of one who is not alive: but the picture glows with life, and yes, fertility… she is inside an egg but seems nubile with her own eggs, strong, muscular and so healthy I wanted to reach out and touch), both Breathe and Rapture are dynamic.
Breathe seems to be like a moment of birth, a head that is unseen above the water, while we see the body relieved at the moment of breaking the surface. Perhaps it would be better to think of re-birth, that impulse to survive and inhale, after being submerged? Forgive me if I project, thinking of Wyers’ ordeal and his return to life.
Rapture is more languid, its colours warmer than those of Breathe. Where you can feel the coldness of the water in Breathe –and the relief to be getting your head up and OUT of that water—in Rapture, the water is a safe sensual place to bask and languish. This pair goes together so well, I wonder if Wyers thinks of them as a set (I didn’t think to ask him when i was at his studio). As far as I know he wouldn’t insist that you keep two paintings together for fear of breaking up a set, and indeed I wonder if he even realized how brilliantly these two seem to balance one another.
So far we have no faces, but at least Wyers has emerged from his reflective garden, has lifted his head out of the pool to breathe again.
I am eager to see what might come next.