Pink Floyd provide a framework for a discussion of Brandi Strickland’s collage work. From her studio in Charlotte, NC, Strickland makes collages that bridge Hipgnosis designed album covers from the hazy, halcyon days of prog rock and a sixth grade social studies book from 1972. Her work has the exuberance of someone who has just the listened to The Dark Side of the Moon through headphones for the first time. This excitement is balanced by the ambiguity of the first inklings of metaphysics, and the apprehension of opening the mind to darker depths. Recognizing that such a balance exists, and describing it in so striking a manner, Strickland’s work is highly thoughtful indeed.
“Let There be More Light” is the title of an ominous, minor key number from Pink Floyd’s 1968 album A Saucerful of Secrets, and a conceit of Strickland’s work. In subsequent years Pink Floyd would hone their ability to mingle dirge-like chunks of fuzz and lilting, pastoral melodies.
The lyrical content turned to themes of work and banality, offered in contrast to the prevalent themes of outer space and innerspace, astral voyage and astral projection. Such themes and contrasts are deftly blended in Strickland’s collages.
Strickland’s collages are immediately striking. Radiant beams cross broad areas of formless dark. Hard-edged shapes and color carve the picture plane into tectonic plate-like slabs. Visually, there is a dynamic interplay of powerful forms. Human subjects people the fields of these strong shapes. Alone or together, they make contact with prismatic beams of color that invariably spread out toward the edge of the image.
Within a historical context determined by the work that Strickland’s most resembles, her collages depict the expanding consciousness as moments of balance, points where horror and reverie are the cost and benefit of searching for more meaning, more light. Her work reminds that this quest for illumination can be scientific as well as spiritual. Any type of search for meaning requires a degree of faithfulness to stories, rituals and traditions.
In Strickland’s collages, there are many visual allusions to The Eye of Providence, which has spiritual meaning, but also associations with control and authority. Depending on whom you ask, the eye in the triangle represents a benevolent God watching over all, or a nefarious secret society of Illuminati. In any regard the triangles radiating light from their pinnacles suggest illumination.
The illumination, or higher spiritual states in Strickland’s work are achieved through ritual and endeavor. There are neutral expressions on the faces of the subjects. They could be performing joyless penance, or possessed of a blissful state of non-attachment earned by meditation, or deep immersion in their work.
The palpable tension in Strickland’s collages come not just from the literal balance of dark and light but the assertion that transcendence can only be conceived of in terms of toil, struggle and a dogged faithfulness to an abstract. Such faithfulness is as likely to yield ecstatic communion with the divine as much as doubt, fear and isolation. Brandi Strickland’s collages depict the quest for illumination, harrowing and exhilarating by turns, with noble and thoughtful grace.
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