Awaken in the Garden, My Love: Davon Brantley at the Massillon Museum

Davon Brantley, Awaken in the Garden My Love, Gallery view at Studio M, Massillon Museum, Massillon Ohio. Photo credit: Grace Carter.

In his solo exhibition at the Massillon Museum, Awaken in the Garden My Love, Davon Brantley extends us an invitation to step into the darkest corners of the mind. Through vulnerable subject matter, we witness as the artist battles his innermost thoughts. Brantley utilizes self-portraiture and psychology to unleash the ugliest parts of human nature, connecting them to the seven deadly sins. Melodramatic scenes dare us to consider the fragmented relationship between the mind and the body.

Davon Brantley, Something for Over the Head, and Propagation (installation view). Photo by Grace Carter.

Brantley saturates the entire room with color. Under the track lights, each work emanates a distinct glow. The influence of Surrealism hangs heavy in the space, given themes that tap into the trenches of the psyche. Here, the artist exhibits mostly large-scale works, but size does not sacrifice craftsmanship. Visual elements, such as highlights and contrast, lend realism to Brantley’s dreamlike landscapes. Brantley also uses texture through mixed-media works, like Something for Over the Head, and blue faux-fur floor pieces that create metaphoric barriers to the art.

There is ample variety of media in this show, including charcoal, oil, pastel, and clay. In the relatively small space, there is just the right amount of work to satisfy the viewer without inducing overwhelm. With each work conveying such palpable anguish, we’re never left wanting more.

Davon Brantley, Gluttony’s Shock. Photo by Grace Carter.

Gluttony’s Shock is an exaggerated portrayal of being caught in the act of something bad. In this work, the subject’s face flushes, and his hands and feet are stained red with the juice of forbidden fruit. The work references the Bible’s numerous references to washing hands and feet, most obviously, Exodus 30:21, which reads: “They must wash their hands and feet, so that they will not die.” The red color of the fruit, resembling blood, may also be an allusion to the blood of Christ.

Davon Brantley, Twins Expletive. Photo by Grace Carter.

Twins Expletive depicts a guttural scream, perhaps a nod to Edvard Munch’s famed 1893 painting. In this double self-portrait, Brantley may be illustrating the idea of an “out of body experience.” Color theory shows that warm colors come forward and cool colors recede; Brantley employs this by painting the second figure the same blues and purples as the background. However, this cool-toned figure appears to be screaming even louder than the orange figure. In this way, the work explores the conscience and dichotomy of good and evil.

By using himself as the subject, Brantley conjures an unabashedly honest exhibition. “We are not always the hero in our journey to self-discovery,” he says in his artist statement. His own vulnerability allows space for self-examination and reflection. Awaken in the Garden My Love reminds us that we’re allowed to be flawed.

Davon Brantley earned his B.F.A. in drawing from the Cleveland Institute of Art. He has exhibited in and curated at Bay Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, the CAN Triennial, the Morgan Conservatory, the Artists Archives of the Western Reserve, and the Museum of Creative Human Art, as well as Indianapolis Arts Center. Awaken in the Garden My Love is on view at the Massillon Museum through May 28th.

The Massillon Museum is located at 121 Lincoln Way East and is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday from 9:30 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. Admission is always free.

The opinions expressed on CAN Blog are those of the individual writers. Art is somewhat subjective. Well, somewhat. But yes, everybody's a critic.

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