Kevin Brisco Jr. paints too slowly, he says, for that to be his focus as a fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center. Instead, he is working mostly on conceptual projects.
“I’ve been casting disco balls in black resin,” he says matter-of-factly from his Provincetown studio. “I’m trying to make a bunch of these and create a chandelier with black Mylar tinsel.”
The black disco balls, which absorb rather than reflect light, will be part of an installation at the Hudson D. Walker Gallery running from Friday, Feb. 25 through Tuesday, March 1. They will be suspended by heavy chains and driven by low-speed, high-torque motors so they are “spinning against one another.” The installation explores the dance floor as a place of connection as well as dread, Brisco says. It makes all sorts of references, from the history of lynching to Spanish moss to “celestial bodies.”
Like most of Brisco’s work, the installation is open to interpretation. “All things are present and can also be not present,” he says cryptically. “I’m searching for a sense of ominousness. It’s amazing that you can create that with two motors, some plastic, and some chains”
Born and raised in Memphis, Brisco spent his first 18 years being “very bad at sports.” Instead, he had drawing competitions with his father. After living in Texas for a short period, he now calls New Orleans his home. It’s “very much a place that celebrates tragedy,” he says.
Brisco received a B.A. from Wesleyan University and then graduated virtually with an M.F.A. from Yale in 2020. He spent the following year teaching in New Haven before coming to FAWC in the fall.
Trained as a painter, Brisco is better described as a multimedia artist spanning painting, sculpture, installation, and performance. He considers his art a “container for concepts.” The right medium is a means to an end.
Brisco’s Skywriting paintings, on view at the Provincetown Art Association and Museum through March 6, are part of his “invisible text” series. The sky-blue paintings, inlaid with words visible only from the side, turn a darker hue when exposed to sunlight. The text will eventually be “burned into the painting over time, the more skies the paint sees,” he says.
“I’m trying to put happiness into my work,” says Brisco. “I’m noticeably happier on a clear day.” He says he hopes to foster a vision that transcends issues of race and prejudice.
“Impermanence is important, but so is acceptance of change,” he says. “With these paintings, I’m trying to have an honest relationship with change. Blue skies don’t last forever.” Experience can make you jaded, but skepticism, he says, can also be a form of beauty.
Brisco’s sumptuous paintings of vegetation, which he calls “landscape portraiture of semi-indigenous plant life,” are unapologetically beautiful yet contain a historical truth. “They’re all paintings from this southern Louisiana landscape,” he says. “These are plants that were there as a result of imperialism — the triangle trade.”
Brisco unfurls a large canvas across his studio floor. Vague human shapes rendered in oil and acrylic sit in front of an open, unfinished landscape. The portraits are completely backlit, so the figures show up as silhouettes.
“I was trying to think through the idea of the Southern landscape as it relates to black bodies — a landscape that presents the figures as silhouettes but also kind of rejects them,” he says.
“Because they are backlit, you can’t see the details. You’re forced to complete it in your head — you’re not given all the information.”
Brisco believes everything’s more rewarding when people discover it for themselves. “If you beat the over the head with it,” he says, “then you’re just shouting.”
The painting comes out of Brisco’s interest in poet and philosopher Édouard Glissant’s concept of “the right to opacity,” a rumination on identity, space, and history. It also speaks to the Black diaspora, he says, and his experience growing up in the South.
“The thing about the figures remaining in shadow,” he explains, “is that you don’t fully know them; you don’t fully get to own them.”
Brisco at the Disco
The event: A show of works by Kevin Brisco Jr.
The time: By appointment; Friday, Feb. 25 through Tuesday, March 1
The place: Hudson D. Walker Gallery, Fine Arts Work Center, 24 Pearl St., Provincetown
The cost: Free