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an exhibition of paintings and sculptures by Joni Brenner

I work in my studio all the time – I believe in daily practice. I make sculptures in clay, large and small, I make oil paintings on canvas, on stone, on wax and I make small watercolours of the two human skulls I have in my studio. I carve into rubber slabs and make casts of these in plaster, I make plasticine sculptures, I decide which works to cast in bronze, and which works to group together. I just work, sometimes knowing exactly what I am doing and sometimes not knowing at all. I like the unimagined possibilities that open up through such an approach. This way of working produces an enormous amount of work, which is stacked in my studio, in my lounge, dining room, bathroom and kitchen. I live with the work, some of it I leave – quite a lot of it, and some of it I rework or discard. Sometimes it feels like I live in an archaeological dig, excavating and collecting my own work.


This exhibition is a selection of the works I have been making recently. I have included a few much earlier works and I have called this exhibition ‘collection’. This space lends itself to a display of objects in a fashion that recalls museum collecting, and it is a space perfectly suited to my practice.  I have, for years now, worked consciously with the conventions of museum display and the strategies of presentation. I have looked in a sustained way at museums all over the world, looked at the work of other makers, both ancient and contemporary, and I have been interested in the ways in which their work is shown. Collections of work always seem to me to be fragmentary in the sense that there is much left unknown or unshown. As viewers we are like archaeologists piecing together a broader story from fragments. 


My subject matter is mostly portraits, and I have found that a portrait itself is only ever a fragment of the person, or a fragment of the relationship between artist and sitter. Working with portraiture means working with an awareness of time passing and it brings mortality and the fragility of being into sharp focus and I understand in T.S. Eliot’s words, that it is not the “greatness”, the intensity, of the emotions, the components, but the intensity of the artistic process, the pressure, so to speak, under which the fusion takes place, that counts’[1].  He also says that ‘humankind cannot bear too much reality’[2] and I know from the way I work, from being an artist, from making portraits, that living is a process of dying but also that in the knowledge of mortality, is life.


Joni Brenner



[1] T.S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism, Methuen, 1920


[2] T.S. Eliot, ‘Burnt Norton’ Four Quartets, Faber & Faber, 1941

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