Louis Briel Faces It
Portrait artist Louis Briel will be joined tonight by his high school girlfriend and her husband. And tomorrow, a gallery talk will be hosted by his first boyfriend, now a life-long friend, fellow artist and author — so tonight’s opening of “Face It!” genuinely covers a cross section of his art and life.
“Face It!,” Briel’s first one-person show since he moved back to Richmond from Los Angeles, celebrates his journey as a creative figurative painter. For this 50-year retrospective, he brings pieces from his personal collection, many never displayed publicly, to the Glave Kocen Gallery.
“One of the reason I’m doing this show is that I’m trying to make sense of me.” he says. ”I’ll leave it up to you guys.”
During his career, he’s subjects have lined the spectrum from congressmen to Arthur Ashe. Tonight, he’s relying on friends and family to help him put his more intimate works in perspective.
GayRVA.com: You mention you won’t be showing much of your commissioned work at the gallery.
Briel: The thing that’s peculiar about my career – I have a lot of other works along the way. Most portrait painters don’t have a body of work like this because they are working purely on commission. It is rare that you see a portrait painter doing a show. If you look through the portfolios at this show – in general, it will be much more conservative than what you see hanging on the wall.
What is the difference between the two?
Portrait painting is only somewhat related to the art world. The person commissioning the portrait may not even be into art – they are made because the client has a need and there’s usually an occasion involved. It’s because his wife thinks she looks pretty after the face lift. It’s because of things related to people’s lives and not art itself.
You’ve painted someone with a face lift?
Yes – I have and that’s why I painted her because she just had a facelift. She thought she looked great and she did! And I’m not telling you who it is.
Fair. What can we expect to see in the show?
It’s a selection of paintings of friends, people I have chosen to paint over the years. Some psycho-drama paintings, which are me working out my relationship with my mother and other people on canvas.
It also celebrates an evolution of my style as an artist from fairly representational through pop back through representational and a lot of mixing in between.
Tell me more about that evolution of style?
I am a self-taught painter and never went to art school. I started off looking at Renaissance painting and very traditional American painting when I was a kid. My style when I taught myself to paint had a little bit of both. In the 70s and 80s I started studying art more widely and discovered pop art, cubism, and more contemporary styles. So I would say that my work during the 70s and 80s is very pop influenced.
In the 80s I discovered David Hockney whose style of work really appealed to me. I was interested that he was a completely out gay artist at the time. Some of the work I did at the time actually borrowed images from his work. One painting in the show is a tribute to me meeting him. The painting is about me entering David Hockney’s work and most of the figures in the painting are borrowed from his art.
The most recent portrait of Elliot is very traditional in a Renaissance way. I go back and forth. As a portrait artist, you have to be flexible with style. When I’m commissioned to paint a congressman for his committee room – it’s got to look like the other stuff in the room.
What do you think reaction to your show will be?
Sometimes with portraiture – it’s so tied to someone’s life, you know it’s going to have an effect. With these other works, I never know when it’s going to resonate. Every painting has a story – maybe it’s your story too.
I try to be an open book in my personal relationships and every other way – it takes too much energy to try to decide who to be. Maybe it will puzzle some people. Maybe it will inspire some people. Hanging a show like this is hanging clothes out for the neighbors to see. They see where you sleep, who you dream about, and who you’re attracted to.
This is who I am. This is what I’ve painted. I don’t claim to understand it.
Face It! A Fifty-Year Retrospective opens tonight, Friday, February 4, 6 p.m. – 9 p.m. at Glave Kocen Gallery, 1620 W. Main St. ”Face to Face: Louis Briel and Scott Campbell an unrehearsed conversation” is Saturday, February 5 at 11 a.m. ”Portraits as INtuitive History” a gallery talk by Louis Briel is Saturday, February 19, 11 a.m.
Kevin Clay is the editor and publisher of GAYRVA.COM. He is a Richmond native, loves the city and knows it's on the edge of greatness. Don't hold back RVA. You can follow Kevin on GAYRVA's Twitter or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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