The experience of playing freely during childhood must imprint itself indelibly in one’s psyche. So many artists and writers who grew up in small towns across America seem to have been fueled by these long lazy periods of spontaneity as children. I put Jill Brantley among those so endowed. She was fortunate to live in a small town in New England. No stoplights. Church steeples rising above oaks and maples. The whole nine yards. She remembers walking to school, riding bikes in the dark on summer nights, roaming with friends from yard to yard inventing games as they went along. Imagination sparking imagination. And a mother ringing a special bell at dusk.
Jill’s family circle was also a creative place, one that fostered reading and thought-provoking discussions at the dinner table. “Why people do the things they do and what causes mental illness,” for instance. (Her father being a professor at Boston University, Harvard and Tufts and her mother being a nurse). When Jill’s father was sent to Paris for a year-long UNESCO project, thirteen-year old Jill experienced a different kind of creative jolt. She was in awe of how French women dressed and accessorized with scarves, handbags and jewelry. Looking back she thinks her current interest in “the decorative” along with “the narrative” or what makes people tick, began in those formative years.
In college at American University, Jill wrote poetry, joined in a dance troupe and majored in sociology with a minor in social anthropology. After graduation she worked at McLean hospital in Boston, but left after a year to pursue jobs in other areas, to marry, and then to travel Europe in a van for three months. Making art was not even in the cards as she mothered two small children. Eventually she took a job with Tri City Too, a home decorating company commissioned to do color consultations in client homes.
From her advisory work with color schemes, she transitioned into the fine arts classes at the McLean Community Center, the Art League School in Alexandria, and Myrtle Beach NC. Rob Vander Zee and several Art League teachers encouraged her to bring the imaginative childhood experiences into the fore using the languages of acrylic paint and collage. “Being an artist is not like being a surgeon,” Vander Zee taught. “As you come to a turning point and seem lost, you have to decide whether or not to take a leap into the unknown.”
On a memorable visit to a Metropolitan Museum of Art’s special Matisse exhibit that included odalisque costumes, she was overwhelmed by the Matisse’s family textiles as well as his brilliant paintings. “I came out of the exhibit vibrating with excitement! I wanted to go in those rooms and stay there,” she states. “After that I began to add fabrics to my collages.”
Another painting giant, German expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, inspired Jill too. Kirchner reflects, “It seems as though the goal of my work has always been to dissolve myself completely into the sensations of the surroundings in order to then integrate them into a coherent painterly form.” Jill does exactly this in her first Touchstone Gallery solo exhibition of collages entitled Situations. The works are constructed with paint, paper, fabric and found objects. They summon memories from the past like shag rugs, and plastic covered seat cushions, as well as pets, flower arrangements, and gesturing people—narratives describing how individuals embellish themselves and their surroundings in mundane, or ambiguous or humorous ways. Like Kirchner, she “paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact …creating new appearances of things." Her complex two dimensional compositions include unusual papers, fabric and intricate color schemes.
In summarizing her life and art, Jill observes, “I am so blest to have found a creative path to serenity in spite of it being a lot of work. It is such a gift to have the ability and opportunity to do this with my life right now while being supported by the many creative people I study and exhibit with.” --Rosemary Luckett
Situations will be on exhibit November 4-27, 2016, Touchstone Gallery, 901 New York Ave NW, Washington DC. Opening reception is Friday, Nov. 4, 6-8:30pm.