Janine Brown's "Wallflower Project" is a portrait series in which individual subjects seem to emerge from wisps and filigrees of the unique, vintage wallpaper patterns of the backgrounds that surround them. With a nod to Victorian spiritualist parlor games and empathy for the social travails of the shy or seemingly introverted, Brown's portraits transform these allegorically shrinking violets into the protagonists of witty, romantic, and mysterious creative moments -- the sighing centers of diffuse attentions. The series is largely black-and-white, though they are sometimes subtly colored, with sepia- and slate-inflections that render the images both more contemporary and more historical at the same time.
She uses Pinhole photography and double exposures on 35mm film - one shot for the person, the other for the wallpaper; and these are both techniques which court or at least tolerate chance, patience and serendipity in the process in a way increasingly unfamiliar to today's digital shutterbugs. In fact the camera itself (a $15 kit held together with tape, glue, and rubber bands) operate in furtherance of the project's ethos of nuance and experiment, as its long exposures generate soft focus and other unpredictability within the composition.
Among the emotional and narrative ambiguity that results from her process and technique, is this question of whether the portrait subjects are emerging from or fading into their surroundings. Are we experiencing moments of intimacy or of distance? In a way each viewer answers that for themselves as they inevitably find moments of resonance or recognition across the series. Because the subjects (friends, family, ordinary folk) will inevitably remind them of someone, of themselves, of a dream they once had, and this affects the malleable emotional profile of each individual work -- which is ultimately what makes them successful as portraits despite their diaphanous obfuscations.
Several new color works from "The Wallflower Project" are currently part of ArtShare L.A.'s Face in the Crowd, a group exhibition on view in the Downtown Arts District from March 30 to April 16 -- as part of a thematic, mixed media group show about how we go about finding each other and ourselves out there in the shifting currents of the modern world.
A full solo show from "The Wallflower Project" will open on Saturday, April 9 (6-9pm) in West Hollywood at Gallery 825/Los Angeles Art Association, and continue through May 6. There she will show black and white works with a more somber, mysterious emotional and formal quality, which also tap into a certain photo-triggered realm of memory, nostalgia, history, and other mysteries like ghosts, spirit photography, apparitions in haunted hotels, selfies, and visitations in our dreams.