There’s art that demands you look at it. Admire it, hate it, at least have a thought about its existence as an object. And then there’s art that demands you look at yourself—dredging up the inner debris you prefer to ignore most of the time. Galen Brown’s retrospective at the Nevada Museum of Art, Sine Cere, does the latter. Over two rooms and 13 pieces, the Reno native gives us different forms to meditate on—each colored and shaped for a particular type of inward experience (whether this was intended or not).
Here’s a look into my own Sine Cere meditation journey:
“Long Blue Line” is the artist’s first clue that you’re entering something more than a gallery space. The 40-foot-long drawing takes 15 seconds to walk by quickly and a full two minutes to take in each consecutive piece of blue-inked matboard. I did both and am convinced that it’s better seen as a blur—a block of color meant to help the viewer make the shift from hallway to inner sanctum without slowing down, cueing up all of the big feelings that come with the color blue: calmness, sadness, spiritual freedom.
Hanging in the northwest end of the second floor gallery are 13 ghosts of Christmas trees past, clipped and stripped down to their trunks, strung upside down, sanded and—in some cases—painted to look like other materials. Although the piece is titled “Trees,” it reads more like roots in their inverted positions. I sit down on the gallery bench and do a grounding meditation, taking turns imagining each tree extending from the base of my spine and connecting me to the earth, releasing energy that has been hanging out in my body too long. I try one that is painted to look like bone, picturing it as an extension of my own tailbone. A gold-colored tree feels heavy and untouchable, and I end up going with one that has dark circles spanning the width of the wood, figuring its earthworm muscle markings will be able to change shape if they need to.
Portal to the Center of My Head
Still sitting, I turn 90 degrees to face the Work-You-Can’t-Miss—three massive graphite circles large enough to disappear into. And since I’m tethered to something that feels safe (thanks wormtail!), I do just that. Made entirely from No. 2 pencil markings and hundreds of scraps of matboard, the pieces resemble Eva Hesse’s circles, but with more of a vortex-like quality that pushes you back, then draws you into the thousands of concentric circles that begin to undulate and spin if you don’t look away. As one of them turns clockwise, I enter a portal that takes me into a headspace big enough (and different enough from my normal state of mind) to entertain thoughts like, “What does it all mean, anyway?” or “How many past lives have I had with my cat?” and “What is the lump in my throat about?” Existential stuff.
I stand in front of another wall of Brown’s drawings—126 works on paper collectively titled “Waves,” each marked up with repetitive lines that never settle, even as they merge into temporary shapes like rows, circles, and boxes. It’s impossible to take in every piece, so I let my eyes land on the images that “match” or line up with my psyche, using Brown’s work as a (massively expensive) tarot deck that tells me what small problems have turned into real blocks in my throat.
Fifth row down, 15th column from the left: thin, dark-colored bands of paint background three blocks of stacked white stripes, forming an equals sign with an extra line. I must have a skewed sense of justice.
Fourth row down, seventh column from the left: A grey rectangle is surrounded by a wide border of short, curved colored pencil marks that seem to be either bursting from or getting sucked into the door-like shape. Unworthiness picture.
Seventh row down, second column from the left: 100 shaded, horizontal pencil lines cover the page, leaving thin white voids and areas of wavelike dark and light. Dairy-based arguments with my ex. I am going to stop here, I think.
Next to the grid of small pieces, a symmetric cross marks another transition, this time ushering the viewer out of the gallery. Titled “First Aid,” the 6’x6’ work is made up of matboard arranged into a Red Cross or a plus sign formation—a secular symbol of salvation that combines the sculptural characteristics of Brown’s 3-dimensional work with the obsessive, hand-drawn lines we’re used to reading by now. In the center of the cross, the edges meet to form smaller and smaller squares, forming another portal whose shape suggests more limits than its circle counterparts. So we’re back to reality … but with a new set of invisible, expansive arms that reach in every direction. I use them to touch all of the paintings I want to touch as I walk by the long blue line on my way out.