ESSAY for

HILARY BRACE:  DRAWINGS AND TAPESTRIES
Exhibition brochure, January 2022


There is an immediate polarity when confronted with the intimate meteorological landscapes of artist Hilary Brace, a push and pull as we reckon with process and imagery. Whether the viewer is placed far above or within its magical environment, each work is a tightly cropped glimpse of the infinite and unknown. The drawings, which range from postcard to window size, hint at the real world’s intricate cloud formations, gaping crevasses and crashing waves. However, the awareness of material and the imagined compositions quickly diminish the sense of familiar reality. “When people first see a drawing, they often assume it is ‘real’ because it is so fully rendered, but then they become confounded by how that could be true, given the subject matter. Those different responses must come together finally in their experience of the work,” explains Brace. “The viewer has to bring the real and unreal together,” a process that mirrors the artist’s own experience when constructing the image.


One of the oldest methods of documenting a line, charcoal is a favored tool for capturing gestures as they occur. However, during Brace’s twenty-five years of drawing solely with charcoal, she has pushed the medium to its limits, inverting its traditional process to one of erasure with a slow, methodical hand. Using a frosted polyester film typically used for architectural drawings, the artist pushes ground charcoal into the substrate’s texture. Working subtractively, areas are filled with dark values and then delicately massaged and erased to reveal forms and then refine detail. While larger works may begin with collecting clips from reference photos, the images result from the artist’s imagination and are spontaneously created during her process. The black and white palette ominously enforces the imagined atmospheric events, while the precise volume and position of each shape reiterate the accuracy of the natural world—reinforcing the rhythmic push and pull of discerning the image.


The tapestries mimic and further explore the concepts in the charcoal drawings. However, more significant in scale, these imagined scenes begin as digital renderings and are brought to fruition with theTextielLab at theTextielMuseum in Tilburg, Netherlands. Brace worked tirelessly with the Lab to select the specific character of each thread used in her Jacquard weavings. As a result, the finished works achieve an active luminosity by including reflective and metallic threads in the limited palette, allowing this iteration of work to exist and play with light and space in an exaggerated, physical manner.


Whether drawing or tapestry, these mysterious landscapes remind us that words rarely capture the visceral response in moments of awe. Even when words are found, it will be the visual memory that ultimately lives on, not the words assigned. “I do not worry much about the ‘meaning’ of the work transcribed into language. The intellect is too good at rationalizing. I want to make multi-faceted, experiential and poetic images that are enigmatic even to myself,” explains Brace.


Works are left untitled to encourage the viewer’s exploration and open interpretation. The significance of an image comes not from understanding its origin or meaning but from experiencing its existence as an object that has pushed the boundaries of reality. Perhaps a subtle reminder that there is accountability and mutual respect between humanity and the natural environment (real or imagined). In a world saturated with images and information, these works slow us down, encourage wonder and confirm the importance of observing, exploring and reconsidering, for things are often not what they seem.


In Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian (1985), the polymath antagonist, The Judge, a keen observer, and agent of nature, teaches that the “universe is no narrow thing, and the order within it is not constrained by any latitude in its conception to repeat what exists in one part in any other part. Even in this world, more things exist without our knowledge than with it, and the order in creation which you see is that which you have put there, like a string in a maze, so that you shall not lose your way. For existence has its order and that no man’s mind can compass, that mind itself being but a fact among others.”


These intimate yet expansive landscapes encourage a person to look closely and not rely on the usual cues for understanding the world. Instead, they encourage curiosity about nature’s magnitude, the sublime acts of creation and imagination, and provide delight in the experience.

— Rachel McCullah Wainwright, Curator, Bakersfield Museum of Art