The stark and sometimes jarring images created by artist Brenda ‘Bren’ Govender can seem to step away from the darkness. Or be enveloped in it. The South African-born work is part of her Fleeting Glimpses exhibition currently at the Thomas Stevens Gallery in downtown Hillsborough, her first in the United States.
“I think this whole collection is about glancing at someone or just grabbing brief snippets of them,” Govender said. “I did a lot of portrait photography when I was younger, so it always shows and I always look at the eyes to express myself.”
What is not ephemeral is her talent, and an obvious ability to ride the emotional hologram of interpretation: is the woman laughing or screaming? Is the man showing resolve or fear? The faces are in charcoal, mostly in black and white. There are color planes and added strokes that pull some of the portraits into the abstract camp.
Govender’s full-time job is as a graphic designer, but she has been painting and drawing since she was a little girl. When she started studying design, she learned everything by hand, so Govender developed and formalized painting techniques. She also learned photography, a skill that had a clear influence on her exhibit work, which debuted at last Friday’s art walk in June. Govender said the crowd and the feedback were very positive.
“I was very touched by the amount of compliments,” she said. “At home, we have a certain sense of style and what is happening in the market. Arriving in a new country, and putting my work — the same style that I’m still developing — into a new environment, you never know what the reception will be like. But it’s been amazing, and it’s also very different from what’s going on here (in Hillsborough) right now. I haven’t seen much charcoal work in terms of the medium here either. And also I think, because it’s very monochromatic, it stands out. A lot of people have said that and it really stands out among the other things that were shown.
All of the pieces in his exhibition Fleeting Glimpses are charcoal from a method of painting rather than drawing. Govender prepared the backgrounds for most of the pieces, occasionally watering them down, letting them dry, then working with the charcoal, finding the darks and lights, and building from there.
“I like that with charcoal — and I’ve been doing it for about three or four years now — it’s very in-between,” she said. “I can go there and just erase it with my hand and come back to it. I developed a technique where I set up the background of the canvas with an acrylic base, so that when you draw on it, you can literally erase it and move it around. Use eraser, use water. Anything that helps you clean it up and put it back. That kind of interaction with them was really something that I really appreciated.
Bren Govender’s Fleeting Glimpses will be on display through July 23 at the Thomas Stevens Gallery at 126 W. King St. in downtown Hillsborough. An artists’ reception will be held on July 7, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. For more information on the artist, visit: brendagovender.com