Through the lens of realism, connection, emotion and relativity are captured.

Capturing scenes of subway rides, parades and ceremonies, among other daily encounters, Colleen Browning’s art instantaneously pulls viewers into its deepest crevices by means of vivid color schemes, intense expression and spatial relativity. Viewers are delivered into an entirely new medium: a real, yet not so ordinary spectrum. “I am always a realist, an illusionist if you prefer,” Browning has said of herself.

“As I became more intimate with Ms. Browning – it sometimes felt as if I was chasing a ghost who had intentionally left me strong clues, distinctive fingerprints and an artistic DNA thread – it was apparent that she was trying to convey her knowledge about the illusionistic nature of representation,” says Dr. Philip Eliasoph, professor of art history.

As seen in Browning’s “Clairvoyant II” and “Ave Maria,” dramatic light is illustrated against a dark, black backdrop, similar to Caravaggio’s work of heavily employed tenebrism, dramatic illumination of figures where a focused light is depicted against dark shadows. Browning’s characters’ expressions, movements and intentions stand out when put against such a focused light.

A Realist painter who emerged in the American art scene in the late 1940s, Browning has “an uncanny ability to, chameleon-like, imitate any artistic style or mannerism with fluidity,” according to Eliasoph’s film “Colleen Browning: ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’ – A Revisionist Light.”

Browning indeed exhibits insurmountable fluidity within her works. Each one appears seamlessly crafted, as if viewers have entered into the place, time and characters’ world.

“Question Mark” leaves one staring into the figure’s eyes, entering into his or her world, experiencing a shared feeling of question and doubt. With “Ceremonies,” observers find themselves looking into the same bright candles and holding their hands in a prayer-like way, similar to the figures illustrated.

Gary Alan Wood, director of the Quick Center for the Arts, writes of Browning’s work: “Perhaps it is the fact that she found inspiration in her work from everyday life that provides a sense of immediacy, curiosity, connection and even affection for what she has created. It serves to stir our deepest curiosities as art lovers, and causes us to appreciate the powerful capacity of her work to turn our heads – and our imaginations – as we rediscover the world around us.”

Founding director and Chief Curator of the Bellarmine Museum of Art Dr. Jill Deupi calls attention to Browning’s talents as a painter, saying, “Browning’s clear technical prowess, coupled with her extraordinary capacity to continually reinvent herself within the bounds of the representational tradition, mark her as a painter worthy of our attention.”

Deupi also highlights Browning’s success in the “testosterone-fueled world of contemporary art,” and because of it, she is viewed with extra admiration and recognition.

Eliasoph continues Deupi’s thought, saying, “Although Ms. Browning isn’t counted within a very small pantheon of modern masters, she merits a solid place within the largest story of American art in the second half of the 20th century.
“Ms. Browning’s virtue is in appreciating how she kept pace with the more famous personalities and worked equally hard – always believing in the value of her art.”

Along with Browning’s everyday scenes such as “Fire Escape II,” “East Harlem Street Scene,” and “Storefront,” typical observations of a Manhattan resident, she also captured religious events, such as in “Garden of Eden,” “Ave Maria,” and ideas of astrology, as seen in “The Astrologer of Chantinelle.” Upon viewing her captivating scenes, one can only begin to see how dynamic Browning is in her ideas and portrayals. Viewers are taken from their still ground and delivered directly into her paintings; she has the ability to gravitate observers into a whole new dimension: one of thought, reflection and association.

“She is expressing what she is experiencing. She is trying to express reality, which I think is really poignant,” says Rosemary, a resident of Black Rock, who enjoyed Browning’s exhibit and felt uplifted, yet challenged upon exiting. “It is a combination of real artwork with stuff you might see at the Metropolitan with items you might see at MoMA.”

“She worked hard at her craft and deserves the title of ‘Artist’ with a capital ‘A,’” remarks Eliasoph.

The exhibit “The Early Works of Colleen Browning” is located in the Bellarmine Museum of Art, and her “A Brush with Magic” exhibit in the Thomas J. Walsh Art Gallery can be viewed now through March 24.

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