We're delighted and so excited to introduce you to a new Huff Harrington artist, Chris Brandell. A former entrepreneur/businesswoman-turned-artist, Chris had a full-on career before turning her laser vision to the easel and canvas. We call that using both sides of the brain - and what a gift to have.
She approaches her work from a quiet core of energy (perhaps honed from years of being on the frontlines of a large business) and uses her canvases as intuitive backdrops of expression and emotion, created with paint, crayon and graphite pastel.
At first, we just couldn't take our eyes off her exquisitely minimalist mixed media paintings that are remarkably soft and soothing. On second glance, we realized Chris's work is actually way more complex and complicated than it appears - which makes it even more appealing to us. There's something about all that extensive white space and sharply contrasted shapes, squiggles and lines that is completely mesmerizing.
Chris's paintings have just arrived at the gallery and we can't wait to get a couple of them over to Huff Harrington Home. We're imagining a vignette like this.
Like her paintings, Chris is a great study in contrasts. We've had such a great time getting to know her in the past few weeks and she even took some time to answer our Meet the Artist Q & A's. (Hint: keep reading because you will want to know about her new house at the beach, how she starts her day and why she likes to paint blindfolded.)
HHFA: We love your story of entrepreneur turned abstract artist – tell us a little bit about your journey. How has your previous career translated into your current career as a full-time abstractist?
CB: I have been painting since I was 12, but I pursued business and didn’t take my painting seriously till 2012 when I had my first public exhibit. I was fortunate to be a successful entrepreneur but really disliked every day of it. In 2017, my business partner, and I made the decision to sell our company to do life the way we wanted to.
In 2019, I officially became a full-time artist, and lots of wonderful things have happened in my life since which I attribute to actually doing what I love: I’m in the most serious and wonderful love relationship of my life; I’m building a home in Marco Island, Florida with a 500 s.f. studio; I’m represented by new galleries (such as HHFA) which love my work, and of course, I’m painting five days a week (my true joy!).
Although I’m so happy to be transitioned away from my corporate life, I’m also very grateful for it. While I love how intuitive my work is, I benefit every day from the intellectual, financial and organizational savvy that came from years in an executive business position. I think it’s a strength to have both sides of my brain working because today’s art world – galleries, collectors and art itself - is so advanced and also adapting very quickly to a younger audience and varying environmental changes like COVID.
When They're Speaking
When They're Speaking in the studio
HHFA: We’re obsessed with the simplicity and lack of “noise” in your work. What’s the driving force behind your inspiration? The paintings seem simple but complicated – what a juxtaposition!
CB: I’m really inspired by all things “quiet” which I think is reflected in my work – both minimal and sometimes light in either color or texture. I want my work to feel simple, uncomplicated and peaceful – a place to land the eyes and the mind away from the busy world. I’m very personally moved by words, music and meditation and these things are so juxtaposed to the busy-ness and complexity of our lives in general.
When I Hear Them
HHFA: Tell us about the space where you work and what does your painting day look like? A full-time, 9-5 job or do you paint when inspiration hits?
CB: My current studio is two bedrooms reconstructed into a 300-s.f. studio in which I paint 8-12 hours each weekday as my “work”. These days I take weekends off to enjoy life which is a total luxury from my old corporate life which was 24x7!
I usually go to the studio with my coffee before dawn because I love the early hours of the morning when I feel the veil between heaven and earth is very thin. The goal is to prepare myself for the studio session without putting too much focus on the fact I’m preparing for it. As the light comes up, I will usually get a bit distracted to wake up my brain: I’ll read an email, look at Instagram or Pinterest, or review the paintings from the prior day. And then I begin the studio day.
As I go through my daily routine, I read or listen to music, purposefully meditate (whether for five or 30 minutes), and feelings will rise up out of what I’m doing. Whatever the stimuli are, I will pause and become more present to the painting which I’m working on. I never realize it is about to happen until it is happening, but it enables me to feel the emotions, to get in touch with my heart center and soul versus my thinking brain and ego.
HHFA: okay wait. You paint blindfolded? Tell us all about that!
CB: During a particular stuck period a couple of years ago, a friend of mine encouraged me to try painting blindfolded to see what would result. I was really resistant to it at first as it seemed silly. But one morning I tried it: I tied a t-shirt around my head and grabbed a pastel and just made marks on paper. I was completely shocked when I removed the blindfold a few minutes later because I loved every mark. It was completely authentic and random but better than if I had planned it – it was what I was searching for.
The blindfold forced me to get out of my head and into a feeling space. It has become one of my favorite ways to keep the work looking and feeling authentic because the marks are not controlled. I use it at different times in a painting when I’m not sure of something or just to get started. It’s quite fun actually, and sometimes it is painted over and sometimes the marks show at the end. Either way though, I don’t purposefully try to change them but rather love them as they are.
Sacred Places in the studio
HHFA: Favorite vacation spot and why?
CB: A couple of years ago I started visiting Marco Island, Florida with my boyfriend. It has the most gorgeous large, white sand beach with beautiful shells and amazing sunsets. The beach is about five miles long and I can jump in the Gulf with very little waves anytime of the year. I love it so much I’m now building my forever home there!
HHFA: Favorite art museum and why?
CB: Almost any art museum because access to great art is so very expansive for life! I’m very fond of The Phillips Collection, a smaller museum with a great collection and space in DC. Also, the National Gallery of Art which is obviously so incredible, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts is super cool too.
HHFA: Three painters (living or not) are coming to dinner! Who are they, what are you serving and what on earth are you going to talk about?
CB: Gary Komarin, Beatriz Simon and Picasso. I'm serving assorted charcuterie, crusty bread and martinis.
We are friends of course so we’re going to talk about all the latest news, gossip, painting projects, collectors and galleries and life in general. These three artists are such completely interesting personalities; their work is so gorgeous and their lives (from what I know of them) so deep and different than mine that I can’t wait! (HHFA: sounds like a fun party!)
Ooooh la la. We love this painting married and mixed with a little French crunch. Imagined at Huff Harrington Home.
HHFA: You mention Julius Bissier as an inspiration. Give us a little background and tell us why.
CB: Bissier’s paintings from his later years are completely inspirational to me. He studied and practiced Zen and his paintings reflected these influences. They are simple and perfect, with simply executed shapes that combine to feel so complex. I’m very fond of just a little paint and complex marks – my favorite time in any painting is the first layer when the painting only has a little to say but it is the most compelling. His work reminds and inspires me to stay simple.
HHFA: What’s on your palette? Tell us your three favorite colors to paint with and why.
CB: My palette is mostly oil color, and I have pencils, crayons and pastels. I use acrylic white paint and sometimes other acrylic colors in underlayers.
My favorite colors to paint with are sienna (raw or burned) and raw umber. These three colors work so wonderfully with almost any color and particularly black and white. I just love how they can feel very dense or transparent depending on how they are worked. When used with black on a white background – wow, can all my paintings just be that?!!
Chris Brandell (photo: Creativ Magazine)
Wow is right! We are so glad Chris is part of the gallery family and hope you'll pop by the gallery to feast your eyes on Chris's quiet and hypnotic paintings - or enjoy them virtually right here. Enjoy!