In the Black: Drawing Works by Napoleon Brousseau
Shadow catcher — in the case of a lesser artist, that phrase could describe the facile products of a New Age dabbler. But Napoleon Brousseau stalks his netherworld prey with a razor sharp edge, peeling back the skin of respectability to reveal the primal spirit at the core.
Brousseau has worked in painting, sculpture, installation, electronics, video and digital media over the course of his thirty-year plus career. But drawing holds a special place within his practice, as it is the most direct route to the unconscious. Acting as conduit rather than composer, Brousseau sometimes uses both hands to draw, recalling the Surrealists’ ‘psychic automatism’ and their desire to circumvent reason in order to find the irrational, that place where the Shadow resides.
In Jungian terms, the Shadow represents the dark, primordial, and often unacknowledged, side of the self. Yet the Shadow is also associated with creativity. As suppressing or projecting the Shadow only serves to make it nastier, Brousseau, the artist/shaman, seeks instead to uncover its secrets.
Sometimes its missives are surprising and mysterious, even to the artist, as when the knees of the deer/woman in Goddess of the Ways morphed into sperm whales. But Brousseau goes with what comes. In Labrys Angels, the space between the mirror image goddesses emerged as a blood-red labrys, the double-headed axe that freed goddess Athena from her father Zeus’s forehead.
Liberating the female within the male is among the psychic exorcisms that Brousseau performs as he navigates through territory rife with chimeras, multiple identities and opposing forces. Yet while his drawings are black and white, literally and metaphorically, Brousseau also pries opens the door to the grey area, the Shadow’s haunt, a place free from the censoring mind. Suspend judgment, all ye who enter here.
Beauty and beast, pleasure and pain, attraction and repulsion, each are equal partners in Brousseau’s picture of the teetertotter of life. Bound figures, such as the woman/animal in Rabbit Sadhu (a sādhu is a Hindu ascetic) suggest repression but also the necessary, and ultimately beneficial, trials that are part of the self’s journey. The Tower, with its tumbling man, is inspired by a tarot card that can signify either destruction or liberation. Brousseau’s tower encompasses a high heel shoe (one of his recurring motifs) vaginal lips and an animal’s hind legs, revealed as a result of his mission to expose those libidinous impulses lurking beneath the propriety surface.
Brousseau’s depth of vision is matched by his deep space black, achieved through a canny combination of material and method. Using the evocatively named Siberian Fir charcoal, Brousseau applies a layer, vacuums it, then applies another, repeating this process until he reaches the desired saturation. Gazing into the dead black eye sockets of the ghastly vamp in Death Tube is akin to looking into a black hole — you just might not come back.
While we may at first shy away from the more uninhibited expressions of Brousseau’s psyche (Gorilla Pussygasm, anyone?), braving the challenges of his no holds barred attack offers the possibility of cathartic release, one that will leave us, as the title of this body of work promises, In the Black.