REVIEW

ART IN AMERICA

September, 2001

“Hilary Brace at Craig Krull”

 

Hilary Brace’s charcoal drawings read like snapshots of the sublime. Close in size to standard, commercially processed photographs (just over 3 by 5 inches), they are scaled to the hand, to the intimacy of the held and closely seen. The images, however, of roiling clouds and vaporous crags, suggest a vastness at the opposite end of the experiential spectrum, scaled more to the imagination than to the body. What Brace’s stunning little drawings do is put those two realms–the private and the cosmic–within reach of each other.

 

The subjects of Brace’s works have all the grandeur and physical drama of a Yosemite or Grand Canyon but none of the specificity. These are nameless, placeless spectacles staged by clouds but suggesting such continuity between states of matter–solid, liquid and gaseous–that they are equally convincing as skyscapes, seascapes or sometimes landscapes. Rarely does a horizon assert itself; there are no cues to scale. Clouds in billows, drifts, waves, tendrils and wisps fill each small frame. In one drawing (all are untitled, charcoal on Mylar), a dark, clotted ring of cloud hovers around a searingly bright core.In another, a vein-like crevice splits a tilted plane, inhaling vapor from above.

 

Powerful forces are at play here, forces of creation and transformation. A century ago, these works might have been described as plainspoken evidence of the hand of God, but Brace’s nonspecificity of place carries over into matters of meaning and intent. The pictures evoke divinity, but in the broadest sense of the term. They suggest magnitude and extraordinary power. They testify to the unseen forces and pressures that shape the visible–whether those be meteorological, theological or esthetic.

 

Brace’s drawings surpass questions of beauty. Their light is intense, majestic, and their scope is vast. Their kinship to photographs goes beyond matters of scale and monochromatic range. They induce the same kind of awe as photographs of wondrous phenomena–awe of the subject and of the means of recording. Brace, who lives in Santa Barbara, draws in a style of pristine perfection, photographic in its infusion of truth and mystery. Her images of frothy, blossoming, extruding, immaculate clouds appear to be records of marvels, but are, in fact, marvels themselves.

 

-Leah Ollman