The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
Artist Brianna Didyoung transported visitors during the Fourth Friday opening of her solo show “Modern Witch” at Red Hook Coffee & Tea on January 25th. The corner South Philly coffee shop took a turn for the surreal when Didyoung displayed her brand new pseudo-self portrait paintings. Despite a snowstorm, there were plenty of attendees on hand to keep the tiny café warm and energetic.
This current body of work by Didyoung is just that – work that focuses on the body. All of the images examine the human form, specifically the bodies and faces of females that look astonishingly like the artist. While not explicitly self-portraits, one can’t help but consider that Didyoung, like countless artists from the past, turns her gaze toward herself in order to cull the countenances found in her images.
It would be foolish to stop at the figurative elements in these pieces however, seeing as the artist delves much deeper. In practically all of the faces, the figures’ eyes are half-closed, pale, and notably lacking pupils. Strange fluids and washes of paint surround the subjects and drip from puckered lips, adding a subtle but disturbing physicality that inundates the work.
On the flipside, the heads float – disembodied – in pale, washed out backgrounds. This is where the artist focuses her attention not only at her exterior self but further inward. In one, a psychedelic third eye rests directly on her forehead, bursting with paisley patterns, coiling vines, and unfurled, feathery wings. These vibrant extensions of an internal self expand beyond the reach of the body, lending themselves to a spiritual and empathetic nature past the visceral and even beyond the individual. One of the heads is even surrounded by a circular pair of snakes reminiscent of the Ouroboros. This symbol extends the reach of the work back into distant history as well as outward to eternity since it is representative of the infinite or continuous.
Amidst the repetitive patterns, sprouting trees, and sun-like discs present around the figures, Didyoung never loses sight of herself through all the mysticism and the corporeal form is always central to her paintings. Occasionally horns sprout from the heads, a devilish nod to the show’s bewitching title but also a pointed reminder of our ultimate animal nature.
In lieu of the snowy opening, a second reception will be held at Red Hook on February 8th with a special live musical performance by Matthew mule McKinley & Justin Kalnasy.
Red Hook Coffee & Tea is located at 765 South 4th St., Philadelphia; 215-923-0178; Red Hook on Facebook.