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Francis M. Naumann Fine Art exhibits works by Pamela Joseph and Rob Brinker
Pamela Joseph and Rob Brinker, Moanin, 2018. Acrylic, oil and mixed media on linen and plexiglass, 31 x 43 x 2 inches.

NEW YORK, NY.- Both Pamela Joseph and Rob Brinker have had prior solo exhibitions at Francis M. Naumann Fine Art, but this is the first time their work is being displayed together in a two-person show. For over 25 years, they have shared a studio, so it is perhaps inevitable that, over time, their work would come to share related aesthetic sensibilities. It was recently suggested that they attempt to work together on the same work of art, a challenge they wholeheartedly accepted, and the result is something they call “hybrids.” These works display characteristics of each artist’s inherent style, yet the combination creates an entirely new and distinctively different work of art (so much so that they consider these works made by an entirely independent artist they call “Joseph Brinker”).

The catalogue texts were written by another couple—Larry Litt and Eleanor Heartney—both in entirely different styles. Litt’s text presents a fanciful narrative in the style of his Mad Monk series, where the monk meets an artist-couple working together and envies their affection and camaraderie. Heartney presents a fairly straightforward discussion of the similarities and differences between the work of these two artists (who also happened to be their close friends), determining that their collaboration has added an entirely new dimension to their work.

In addition to the “Hybrids,” also on display are works that each artist created independently, and visitors to the gallery are invited to determine for themselves if the fusion of their independent styles was successful.

When One Plus One is More Than Two: The Shared Creativity of Pamela Joseph and Robert Brinker

by Eleanor Heartney

Whether tormented by demons or driven by inner visions, the archetypal modernist artist works alone. Or so myth would have it. But real life has a way of defying myths. Artist groups, movements and collaborations reveal how important interactions are to the nurturing of creativity. And brilliant breakthroughs are often the result of shared explorations. Think of Picasso and Braque working so closely as they invented cubism that it is almost impossible to distinguish one artist’s work from the other’s. Or Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner going back and forth between their studios as they created work that redefined the nature of painting.

Pamela Joseph and Robert Brinker are an artist couple who have been creating their own distinctive bodies of work while operating side by side for twenty five years. To visit their sundrenched studios in Aspen is to immerse one self in a river of creativity that flows from room to room. Certain parallels are striking. Both exhibit a fascination with collage and layering and a willingness to let their work find its own direction. Joseph and Brinker also share a quirky sense of humor that manifests itself in the eccentric thrift store finds and visual curiosities that populate their living and working areas. Such commonalities have burrowed deeply into their creative processes. As a visitor moves from one studio to another, it is clear how much they share, how one artist’s experimentation with a new material may strike a chord in the other, how ideas about form, color and material splinter and multiply.

At the same time, each pursues a very personal and individual set of concerns. Joseph’s work is deeply grounded in figurative imagery. She borrows from sources as diverse as museum postcards, censored Iranian art books, illustrations of bondage devices, celestial maps and Chinese propaganda images. She isolates and recombines art historical and vintage images of women, animals and fantastic creatures in ways that dramatize and mock the unconscious assumptions about female power and identity embedded in her sources. Brinker works in a more abstract mode, parsing a vocabulary of shapes and forms that are often determined by the remnants of previous works. Employing a computer to play with various arrangements he uses these forms to build up compositions whose complexity is both dazzling and impossible to fully unravel.

While a shared embrace of collage is the most obvious link between their works, each came to this aesthetic separately. Brinker’s early years as an artist were spent in Chicago during which time he worked with Jack Lemon of Landfall Press and as studio assistant to Chicago imagist Phyllis Bramson. He dates his fascination with collage to his exposure to the process of making prints which come together from the layering of separate plates, each inscribed with a single color. Equally influential was his work with Bramson, who cut up found paintings and applied their fragments to her canvases. These formative experiences suggested a way to build up the complexly layered surfaces that are the hallmark of his work. For Joseph, collage has a more conceptual origin. Juxtapositions and overlays of discordant images allow her to literally break apart and recombine the otherwise seamless products of a patriarchal culture.

Since joining forces, their approaches have proved very congenial. As they work individually they are also in constant communication. A word or observation from their partner can help break through a creative logjam. Joseph recalls how, at one point, she was struggling with the representation of a character she was creating for her installation Sideshow of the Absurd. Brinker showed her a book he had just acquired which presented 101 uses for marshmallows. One of these was a marshmallow head that provided the perfect answer to her dilemma. More recently, Brinker “stole” the idea of plexiglass from Joseph for use in several of his paintings.

Joseph and Brinker are also united by an emphasis on process over premeditation. Both take an improvisatory approach to art. Because their compositions take form slowly as they work with the individual elements, there is plenty of time for a studio mate to wander by, apply a fresh pair of eyes and make a comment or suggestion. They have also jointly embraced the computer as an artmaking tool. The digital combination of images and shapes allows both artists with a shortcut to the laborious process of cutting up, laying out and rearranging compositional elements. But again, each has taken this in a different direction. Brinker makes small computer assisted compositions and recreates them on large canvases with old fashioned painting, often shifting and recalibrating as they take form in this different medium. Sometimes he cuts apart and reassembles fragments of the painting surfaces to create a jigsaw puzzle effect. Joseph has learned to print found images directly onto plexiglass sheets. These become overlays that add new dimensions to the painted images that she pieces together to create her compositions.

Recently Joseph and Brinker have begun to experiment with actual collaboration. They have created several hybrid works that include Brinker’s interwoven shapes, Joseph’s eccentric images, Brinker’s dots and fluorescent colors and Joseph’s plexi layers. They have come up with a new name for the collaborative creator: Joseph Brinker to signify his/her distance from their own individual artistic identities.

The workings of creativity are mysterious, even to artists in the midst of creation. There is a social aspect even to the most individual artwork. In their joyful embrace of the necessary back and forth of creative thinking, Joseph and Brinker demonstrate why the artist’s solitude is greatly overrated.

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