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Review: 'Olga Brindar and Liza Brenner' at Christine Frechard Gallery

| Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Olga Brindar's 'The Wolves'
Olga Brindar's 'The Wolves'
Olga Brindar's 'Herne'
Olga Brindar's 'Herne'
Lisa Brenner's 'What Does Phil Donahue Think?'
Lisa Brenner's 'What Does Phil Donahue Think?'
Liza Brenner's 'Happy Hour with Friends'
Liza Brenner's 'Happy Hour with Friends'
Liza Brenner's 'Nightly Shoot'
Liza Brenner's 'Nightly Shoot'
Olga Brindar's 'Face Card'
Olga Brindar's 'Face Card'

On display at Christine Frechard Gallery, works by Olga Brindar and Liza Brenner tell stories way beyond what you might think at first blush.

Having equal flashes of violence and brilliance, Brindar's paintings focus primarily on illustrating her dreams and nightmares. And many times, the paintings, like the dreams themselves, have passages that remain unresolved.

In fact, Brindar, who lives in East Liberty, says most of her work comes out intuitively, from one inspiration or another, and it is only months, or even a year later, that she can begin to talk about it with any semblance of theme or purpose.

“I do deal with similar themes throughout the development of my work and my ideas, but they take on new meanings and nuances as I spend time letting my thoughts marinate, and drawing my inspirations from new and supplementary sources,” she says.

Take for example “The Wolves,” a large work featuring three ominous-looking wolves against a violent red background.

“The wolf first began to appear for me in December of 2012, after a difficult breakup where I was floundering in my personal life and spent many odd hours up late,” Brindar says. “I was driving home at 2 in the morning on a quiet night in Finleyville, when something darted across the road in front of my car. I turned to see where it had gone, and there was nothing in the darkness. I knew it had to have been a wolf. It didn't look like a dog, a fox, or anything like that. It literally went right up against my front bumper, and yet I felt no thud, and there was nothing in the road behind me.”

Right after that happened, she says, a quiet rain began to fall, steady and serene.

“A calm came over me,” Brindar says. “When I came home, I looked up the meaning of the wolf in Native American folklore, as a totem or spirit guide. The wolf is meant to be a teacher, one that urges you to spend time alone in the woods and to trust your intuition over your mind in all things. I began to do just that. The wolf began to appear in my dreams, and then took over my drawings and sketchbook pages.”

Throughout her art career, and especially over the past eight or nine years, Brindar says various animals have appeared to her in dreams and nightmares, as well as in her daily life, in the form of repeated patterns she may notice consciously or even unconsciously.

Not wolves, but deer, are featured in “Herne,” which was inspired by time spent on the west coast of Ireland in the spring of 2013 during an artist's residency at Burren College of Art in Ballyvaughan.

“It was the first work I created during a two-month residency, and I was so desperate to set to work when I first arrived and settled into my flat, that I couldn't even wait for the art store to open so that I could obtain supplies for a new work,” she says. “It was a Friday, and also some kind of bank holiday, so the store on Burren College's campus was closed. In a panic, I went through every room on the campus and found a cage full of old bedsheets, presumably to use as a backdrop for figure drawing and still-life studies. I pulled a pale blue, fitted sheet, tore off the elastic, cut it to size, and primed it for painting.

“I wasn't sure what I would do, just that I needed to create something. I thought, ‘Right, don't overthink this. What do you want to draw?' And the answer came to me: red elk. They used to roam the entire island of Ireland, but hundreds of years ago were hunted nearly to extinction when the society became largely agrarian. Today they only live in national parks and other protected land. The image of the figure in the foreground is a human one, posing as a deer. I finished the piece in a couple of days, and the following Monday, my friend Joe, a staff member at the college, came into my studio. ‘Oh, you painted Herne.'

“ ‘Herne?' I said, ‘I have no idea what that is.' ”

A quick foray into the library revealed that Herne is a sort of ghost or demi-god that represents the hunt.

“It derives from Norse, Celtic and British myth, and his story is a little bit different in each,” Brindar says. “I would like to think that the Earth spoke to me on this one. I arrived in Ireland on a Tuesday and spent every day just walking around in the woods and along the coast, listening to the wind, the sea and the birds. By Friday, I was itching to make work. By Monday, the land had dictated what it was I needed to make.”

“Face Card” is a work that Brindar abandoned more than a year ago and returned to in the past six months.

“Originally, it was a failed image of Robert Motherwell-style ink marks done with a large brush,” Brindar says. “I thought I would do something completely abstract, while sticking to my usual black-and-white palette. The composition failed, the inspiration left almost more quickly than it had come, and I tacked it up, soon to be buried under several other works in progress.”

Looking over all of her work on display, Brindar says, “Truthfully, I am still trying to understand all of the implications behind this work. Because I finished it so recently, I have not fully unpacked what it means to me, and therefore will probably be able to verbalize it more strongly in a few months' time.”

Conversely, Brenner, of Buckhannon, W.Va., takes characters and ideas from history and merges the two to form a sort of contemporary social commentary as well as search for understanding of how the past shapes the present.

Like Brindar, animals also figure prominently in Brenner's work. “Nightly Shoot” reflects Brenner's ongoing love-hate relationship with deer. “My commute to work is an hour each way every day through a very curvy and rural road. I have almost hit and have seen countless deer. My colleagues have hit and killed countless deer. The fear continues for me. On the flip side, I am a huge animal lover who adores all forest creatures.

“The woman in the painting is a reflection of me as in all my work. This is my way of trying to have some control on the situation.”

“Happy Hour” is about Brenner trying to relate the past to the present and figure out why people in government or even the common masses act as they do.

“I read a lot of books about past leaders,” Brenner says. “This painting reflects my opinion of how some people are oblivious to the present and the past. They listen and believe the media. They forget about the horrible tragedies of the past, i.e. the battle of Sand Creek. They forget about the great leaders of the past and what they went through to become great. Not always an easy path. The deer represent the oblivion of the present. The paintings on the wall represent leaders or events.”

Finally, Brenner tackles the American obsession with talk shows in “What Does Phil Donahue Think?”

“I actually was going to try to contact him and ask him since he is still alive,” Brenner says about Donahue. “I asked a bunch of people who they thought started the dramatic, over-the-top talk shows and news we see on TV. Several names were mentioned, and I settled on Phil. He, for me, was the most recognizable of all of them. I think people get sucked into the media and fall for the drama, not necessarily the truth. This work is representing us as monkeys. We can't seem to get away from our TVs, phones and computers and are being brainwashed. What does Phil think of the news today? What does he think of reality TV? Does he have an iPhone?”

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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