The Language Of Color – Chris Brandell

Artist Chris Brandell talks about how her unique relationship with color inspires her artistic practice.

Using her personal experiences and a social perspective, artist Chris Brandell seeks to “interpret the complexity of the human dynamic” while also expressing her passion for color. Hue, intensity, texture, and composition are all crucial to her artistic practice which she uses to invoke emotion in her audience. From a young age, Chris experienced color differently from those around her. “It’s safe to say that my color awareness is similar to my other senses – it’s tangible. I feel I can literally communicate an experience through color in a way that I cannot through words.” Her technique involves a lot of movement and little use of brushes, favoring the affects of large knives and trowels instead.

Chris Brandell in her studio

Chris has been working in the business world for many years and is also a juried member of the National Association of Women Artists. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and is housed in several private collections. After climbing the corporate ladder in a male-dominated industry and becoming a partner in her own company, Chris is ready to take on the art world and pursue art as a career.

We had the chance to talk with Chris about her art, her practice, and how her artistic self is affected by the other aspects of her life. Read on to learn more!

What initially inspired you to become an artist?

Even as a child I had a “fascination” with color. I always say it vibrates in my head. I see colors, and I immediately experience something tangible – an emotion or an intense association with it. For example, let’s say I see a pink gerbera daisy. It’s almost as if everything else is gray and all I see is that color. It makes me feel complete joy, my heart races a bit, and sometimes it makes me think of a previous time when I saw this particular color. I found that I needed to exercise these experiences and get the colors out of my head, and that is what inspired me to paint.

Control III, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 24″ x 24″

How does your intense relationship with color translate into your artistic practice?

Color is extremely important in my life in so many ways. I am constantly distracted by it, and it drives me to paint as much as I can. I initially tried to express my passion through photography, but I wasn’t close enough to the color. When I started painting, I knew I had found a home for my passion.

“I allow the paint and the color itself to lead me without a plan as to how or when the painting should be completed.”

Have any particular artists influenced your work? If so, in what ways?

One great influence has been Marisa Purcell, a contemporary Australian artist and an amazing abstractionist. The way she manages color and the individual elements of her paintings is something I can’t even get close to achieving, and so it is something I am constantly chasing. My work is more expressionist than abstract, but I long for pure abstraction and so, am influenced and inspired by abstract artists. She is who I want to be when I grow up, so to speak.

Mistress, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 40″ x 40″

When did you decide to begin pursuing your art as a potential career?

Not until very late (2012) after a dear friend pushed me to enter an exhibition contest at a local gallery. I didn’t think I could be an artist in real life, so I kept it quiet and pursued a business career. For most of my life, I didn’t really believe that being an artist was a viable option, and I didn’t realize I could manifest art as an output of my mental experience with color.

Speaking of which, you are the Chief Operating Officer of a contracting firm outside of your art practice. How do you balance that and your art career?

Well, not very well anymore because all I want to do is paint 24/7! Seriously, though, I am very committed to my business partner and the team, so the way I manage it is simply to focus on work when I have to and focus on painting the rest of the time. I compartmentalize my two careers and squeeze them both in. I’m sometimes painting until very late at night and definitely all weekend. I plan to be painting full time in about a year and am working gracefully through that plan.

“Facing the obvious challenges towards success in a male-dominated environment prepared me well to pursue my art career.”

Hosta, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 48″ x 48″

You use custom-made knives and brushes to create your pieces. How does that contribute to your creative process?

I made marks long before I actually painted. I love the way the paint responds on the canvas from a tool versus a brush. It’s highly textural and very expressive in my work. I like the strength of the marks made by my custom tools. When I want deep, intensive color, I use my tools. Brushwork is something that I came to love second, and now I would say I use both equally. When I need a soft blended feeling, I reach for the brushes – I use them to smoosh the paint around on the canvas kind of like makeup brushes. I don’t actually think I use them properly at all, but I have created a style within my work that is achieved from them.

The theme of “shame” in our society is one of your main focuses right now. Could you elaborate further on this and how this idea translates into your art?

My paintings in the collection represent the output of my study of this very complex topic. Shame is more present than ever in our current society. As I considered it through reading a lot of material, I realized it has so many faces – public and personal – and that sexual shame, in particular, is something that is in the undercurrent of many people’s lives – totally “normal” people are exercising their shame in BDSM clubs and perhaps becoming stronger contributors as a result. I was compelled to paint about it! Shame, like a painting, has so many layers. I’m fascinated by what makes people tick and I really enjoyed the analysis and then the painting that resulted.

“I am attempting to explore more personal and individual human experiences and study the elementary forms of social behavior within the context of bigger, more complex themes.”

Shame, Acrylic & Oil on Canvas, 40″ x 40″

You have a variety of different titles for your works, and while some are universal and very much speak to the concept of shame and relationships, others seem very personal, such as “11:05.” How do you pick your titles?

The name usually comes to me immediately or even before I paint. However, I don’t always want that to be the name. More often than not, as in “11:05,” the names are very personal because there is a lot of myself that goes into each painting’s inspiration. This painting was named for the time of the night when I was walking home and looked out at the ocean, and the water under the moon was the same turquoise color. There are not a lot of deep feelings in this piece’s inspiration, but it is definitely very personal, as I remember the moment so vividly – how I felt, what the night was like, and what I was wearing – but of course it was the color that grabbed my attention and forced me to paint. 

Many of the works that Agora has online are actually not from the body of work that is exhibiting and so some of the names are more universal. I actually wish all of my works were titled “No. xx” or “Untitled xx” – I really dislike naming pieces because I feel it either gives away too much or isn’t the perfect name for how I feel about the piece. I don’t want people to be distracted by the name.

After, Acrylic and Oil on Canvas, 40″ x 40″

Collecting art is a highly involving and emotional experience. The artist’s process and intention are some of the factors that make one fall in love with his or her piece. Learn more about our artists’ creative methods and fascinating techniques in the Center Stage and Artist Techniques categories.



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