By Ciara LaVelle
By George Martinez
By Kat Bein
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By Travis Cohen
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Monica McGivern
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Jesse Bransford's stellar solo show at the Kevin Bruk Gallery will likely leave spectators howling like loons at the Earth's closest celestial orb.
"IV = 369 (Luna)" marks the fourth exhibition in a series Bransford began in 2005 that revolves around the planets. This show charts the deep symbolic impact the moon has had on world culture since ancient times. Throughout history, the mysterious satellite has exerted a powerful influence on the imagination. It's been associated with femininity, perception, emotions, intuition, wonder, madness, fertility, time's passage, renewal, magic, and the cycle of the tides.
The ancients believed the moon illuminated the psyche in a gossamer glow that left them more open to esoteric impressions. They held that man, beasts, birds, and sea creatures unconsciously danced to the rhythmic pull of the luminary orb.
Bransford's exhibit, which includes a sprawling mural at the entrance of the gallery, seeks to pry open the doors of Western esoteric tradition by deploying arcane symbols referencing the moon. It's a daunting task considering the silvery sphere is so changeable.
But Bransford is more than up to the task. A word of caution, though: Even though some might mistake the artist's approach to his subject matter as the musings of a new-age, mush-brained sap, the work is much more like the spirited reverie of a Hogwarts space cadet, but in a good way.
In a graphic tapestry, he conjures an evocative universe of star maps, hermetic diagrams, talismanic sigils, numerology, the kabbalah, and occult Renaissance traditions. His untitled, wall-swallowing mural engulfs the viewer in a sweeping astrological map superimposed on the outline of the Apollo 11 lunar module; it commemorates the recent 40th anniversary of the first manned mission to the moon.
The artist cleverly employs a trompe-l'oeil effect, placing Greek columns in the foreground and deep center of the composition to imply spatial trajectory. Angular blue and lavender beams bolting diagonally across the image heighten the sense of depth.
Hecterion — a piece made with acrylic, watercolor, and ink on paper — depicts a triune version of the Greek goddess Hecate, who was thought to straddle conventional boundaries and elude definition. She was polymorphous and associated with childbirth, the crossroads, magic, and lunar lore.
Bransford portrays his goddess triplets holding aloft torches, a dagger, and a coil of rope. At their feet, ancient Mesoamerican and Egyptian glyphs appear to float behind a sky-blue veil. The figures are framed by a background star map with the astrological sign Libra subtly noted.
Medieval planetary sigils, once used as talismans to improve fortunes and now lost to time, appear in Bransford's works such as Sic Itur Ad Astra, where modern science emblems meld with symbols of ancient beliefs.
During the Middle Ages, astrology became extremely popular, and royals often employed a personal diviner at court. Nostradamus, for instance, served as astrologer and physician to three French kings. At the time, astrology and astronomy often went hand in hand. Scientists such as Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei dabbled in the occult. Two of Galileo's tomes even contained horoscopes he cast for himself.
The abovementioned painting deftly captures the spirit of the era when man was searching to unlock the secrets of the heavens. Sic Itur Ad Astra takes its name from a line in the Roman poet Virgil's Aeneid that translates to "thus you shall go to the stars."
In it, the outline of a modern-day rocket booster and its cone are rendered over yet another star map as the vehicle hurtles toward a hermetic planetary symbol. Abstract, fin-like shapes careen around the rocket in a dynamic swirl. Bold splashes of midnight blue and flaming orange tones suggest interstellar clouds of dust or the origins of space. It's as if the artist challenges viewers to consider the evolution of science and our primitive understanding of the universe.
Perhaps to hammer his point more profoundly, The Door (Atu 18) depicts an entrance hinting at a portal to the unknown. The enigmatic gateway lies beyond a tarot card symbolizing the moon. On it, two dogs bay wildly at the heavenly body.
Bransford's cryptic take on the moon might well eclipse his equally beguiling ode to the sun, which appeared at the Bruk gallery in 2005. One thing is certain: The artist's mastery of hermetic symbolism and daring interplay of things mystical is a sight to behold.
In Bruk's project room, Juliet Jacobsen's installation, Earnest Corpse, riffs on a technique invented by the surrealists based on an old parlor game called "consequences." Players write in turn on a sheet of paper, fold it to conceal the writing, and then pass it to the next player for further contribution.
For her first appearance at the gallery, the New York-based artist has erected a trio of tree trunks, crowning the stalks with wisps of baby's breath. The ephemeral sculptures, which look like cattails springing from a marsh, convey a sense the artist wants viewers to feel as if they have been transported to a natural setting.
The wall behind it holds a small work of words clipped from an old book's pages and strung together to form a haphazard haiku. It is reminiscent of a ransom note fashioned from newspaper. One of its lines reads, "Conquer apparitions dressed in Valerian peace manifest," underscoring the installation's poetic nature.
An adjacent wall features a drawing of a hypnotic red-and-black vortex, seemingly attempting to suck the spectator into the artist's otherworldly vision. She has also included several deftly executed graphite-on-paper drawings of women's eyes that seem to follow the viewer around the room.