On a rainy November morning, Naya Bricher arrived at the Wellfleet Adult Community Center wearing dangling cherry earrings, a pea-green shirt, and pants the same hue as Barney the purple dinosaur. “I have to live up to my artwork,” she said.
Her paintings, on view at the center’s Great Pond Gallery through the end of November, convey a similar exuberance. There are lots of bright, saturated colors in these collage-like paintings, which she constructs with quirky imagery culled from American popular culture, both contemporary and historical.
The effect is a feeling of being overcaffeinated or of taking one of Bricher’s Zumba classes, which she teaches at various places on the Outer Cape in addition to her other job as administrative director at the Fine Arts Work Center. Bricher has a lot going on in her life, just as in her paintings.
Her aesthetic confidence stems from a childhood growing up in Kent, Conn with artist parents. “I was always exposed to color,” she says. Her father was a stay-at-home dad and told her she could wear anything she wanted to school as long as she wore clothes. No combination of colors, patterns, or textures was off limits. “This had a direct influence on my paintings,” she says.
Bricher studied art at Smith College, where — surprisingly — she graduated having produced a body of black-and-white paintings. A job at FAWC brought her to Provincetown in 2014, where she has since found her way back to color.
Bricher works systematically when building a painting. She begins by sorting digital imagery from social media into folders organized by year, a process she says reflects the “evolution of social media platforms.” In college, she would find images on Tumblr; then it was Pinterest; and now she takes a lot of screenshots from Instagram stories.
After organizing the images, Bricher creates compositions in Photoshop and then projects the images on canvas before painting. Despite the underlying control in the paintings — crisp edges, faultless drawing, and strategically arranged compositions — Bricher leans into the messiness of the subconscious.
“Collage is a way to put all of my thoughts or feelings on the table before I know what they are,” she says. There’s plenty of space in her process for the unpredictable.
Like the surrealists of the early 20th century who first established collage as a fine-art discipline, Bricher draws parallels between the dreamworld and art. “Collage has always felt like the process of going to sleep and the brain processing the day through dreams,” she says.
Certain elements are identifiable; others are seemingly out of the blue. In her painting The Glad Hand, Bricher creates a stage-like space populated with what appear to be props in an absurdist drama. There’s a stack of donuts, an octopus’s arm, folded napkins, a few plastic gems, and a disembodied ceramic hand, its shiny surface rendered with expert attention. Hands show up often in her paintings. They seem either to be offering assistance or looking for another hand to hold.
The stack of donuts and folded napkins are, for her, about preparation: “Get up and make the donuts” is a command she often gives herself. She’s still not sure about the octopus arm snaking through a portal on a green wall: “Is it an intentional guest or the chaos of life?”
Certain narrative elements run through the paintings. In Enjoy Being a Lone Ranger, a painting that features four men arranged in a circular composition, one of the men holds two marmots. In a more recent painting, the marmots reappear. This time a boy is feeding them. She develops the theme further in a pair of paintings that feature desserts in the foreground of an Alpine landscape. “Marmots live in the Alpine range in my mind,” she says. The associations Bricher develops between the images both inform her process of building pictures and underscore the importance of fiction and imagination in her artwork.
Much of the imagery feels nostalgic. Some of it refers to her own past, including a painting depicting the Barbie kitchen that she had as a child growing up in the ’90s. (Her first attempt at Barbie as a subject, when she was at Smith, was met with disdain, but the recent “Barbie culture splurge” has given her “a permission slip,” she says.) Most of the imagery feels sourced from the 1950s. The paintings are populated with cheerful blonde girls, men in high-waisted pants and thin ties, and foods that look straight out of Betty Crocker.
“It’s about nostalgia for a previous era I didn’t live in or wouldn’t even want to live in as a woman,” says Bricher. “It’s an invented history.”
Like a dream, Bricher pieces together scraps of the past — usually things that make her laugh or capture her visual attention — and weaves them into a completely different reality. “Anything is possible in a painting,” she says.
The event: Naya Bricher, Recent Paintings
The time: Through Thursday, Nov. 30
The place: Great Pond Gallery at Wellfleet Adult Community Center, 715 Old King’s Highway
The cost: Free