Amy Hughes Braden will be participating in this weekend’s (e)merge event at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. Read our interview with founders Leigh Conner and Jamie Smith here.
By Kayleigh Bryant
Amy Hughes Braden is a local young female artist engaging in the constructs of popular culture and the news. She completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the Corcoran College of Art + Design in 2011 and has since been showing her work locally. She is a member of the art subscription service Project Dispatch, and the DCAC artist collective Sparkplug, and her drawings can be found in Transformer’s flat file.
Amy Hughes Braden’s portrait paintings are a direct confrontation of societal identification through a vigorous, dynamic, communicative exploration of the overwhelming nature of today’s instantaneous news and popular culture. Her work often depicts celebrities or people in the news, who have distinct society-designated identities that often negate any evidence of individuality. Her BFA thesis for the Corcoran College of Art + Design focused on portraits of a real-life mass murderer whose photograph was all over the news for popular consumption. In focusing on expression, Braden questions the rigid labeling of murderers, serial killers, and terrorists as “monsters.” Deeply interested in the fragility of mental health, partially due her personal experiences, Braden explores violent insanity with a delicate and sympathetic touch. Her work in no way validates or approves the actions of violent criminals, but suggests that societal identification is insufficient for understanding the complex identity of such a person. The artworks make the viewer question how and why identity is formed, the invalidity of societal identification of the individual, and the inconclusive legitimacy of self-identification.
Ghosts, 2012, Acrylic on Canvas, 28″ x 24″
Woven into Braden’s interest in the ‘now’ are her musings on interpersonal, specifically family, relationships. She often sources photographs of extended family as inspiration and content, exploring her relationship to them as she dissects her relationship to contemporary culture. A particularly striking body of work centers around photographs of her uncle’s body after he died in her parents home. While Uncle Joe’s face is rendered carefully in each of the works, aggressive methods are sometimes used to obscure it; text, red circles, etc. Whether the subject is known criminals, or relatives, Braden clearly wants you to understand their humanity.
Uncle Joe is Still Dead, 2013, Pencil and Vinyl Sticker on Paper, 17″ x 13″
Braden’s work engages with the hyper-public, hyper-instantaneous, hyper-informative nature of the internet-driven world of today. Her work is often reactionary and as such is like the fine-art version of Instagram and Twitter. Besides her subject matter, her technique is also worthy of praise. She tries to make acrylic paints behave like oil. Vibrant pigments of neon, especially neon pink, smooth brushstrokes, and provocative text form engaging portraits in her work.
Regular Madonna with Orange Face Baby, 2013 Acrylic on Canvas, 5’x4′
Viewing Braden’s effervescent work means looking past the first hysterical judgment of any person—celebrity, criminal, or whomever—which is often the limited perspective of social and news media. While her work is very reactionary her art process refines these responses, without losing sight of her original meaning. She sticks with a pop culture idea—inspired by Twitter or Instagram or the news—longer than most of us stick with our convictions on any of our personal social media pages. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, can all leave a dissatisfying emptiness in us after we’ve consumed all that overwhelming information. Braden reengages with moments of pop culture, past the point of overwhelming ambiguity, blending different news stories and pop culture references to produce a new, refreshing perspective of the ever changing, ever uploaded environment we live in.
Mass, 2012, Acrylic and Collage on Canvas, 5’x4′
She is digesting pop culture and choosing to live in and work in the moment—in the now—as any important artist should. Art is meant to provide meaning to life, and Braden’s work certainly accomplishes that. She is wise beyond her years and pushing the envelope on what it means to be an artist today.
Amy Hughes Braden lives and works in northern Virginia. You can see her work next in Baltimore, MD at EMP Collective’s show “Mirrorspeak” opening November 15, 2013.
All images used with permission. Copyright © 2012, Amy Hughes Braden. All rights reserved.