The artist takes a circuitous route to Alameda, where he’s using art to take stock of his journey.
For painter Christo Braun, becoming a Bay Area artist was arrived at by way of a circuitous route. Be it by chance, tragedy, or thoughtful pursuit, Braun now makes his home and studio in Alameda with his wife, Cynthia McNulty, just two blocks off the Park Street corridor and a few blocks from the bay. But getting from San Francisco, where he had his first solo exhibition at the Micaela Gallery in 2005, to settling down in his current home of Alameda took several twists and turns of fate.
Born in a small coastal town on Long Island, New York, in 1960, Braun began his art, literature, and philosophy studies at an early age. His undergraduate degree was completed at SUNY-Albany in 1982. Graduate studies were completed at St. David’s University College in Wales in 1986. It was there that an interdisciplinary approach to perception, communication, and artistic representation called “The Word and the Visual Imagination” shaped his work and continues to inform it. “My thesis focused on theatrical semiotics, which propelled me into scenic design work at first,” said Braun. That work encompassed designing, building, and installing theater sets.
The artist moved to the Bay Area in 1987 and set up a studio at The Point, in the Hunters Point Shipyard. He did set design work then with Last Planet Theater, worked with Young Audiences of the Bay Area, and assisted students at the Urban School. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, he moved his studio to a small warehouse space in Hayes Valley. “It was a wonderful space until the lease ran out and my then-wife, Deborah Gibbon, and I were forced to move in 2006,” Braun said. The couple moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which was his wife’s hometown. She passed away three days later of a brain aneurism. “Deborah championed my work as a painter, and I began to throw myself into the art form whole-heartedly, eschewing the theatrical work,” he said.
Braun was welcomed by the Pittsburgh art scene with gusto, garnering a few solo shows and a grand collaboration with the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. He also met his current wife there when she commissioned a piece for her home.
After a few years, he was on the move again. Drawn to Florida’s tropical waters and art fair circuit, he set up a studio in Key West in 2011 and exhibited at local galleries. In 2017, Hurricane Irma changed all that. “A few hours of Mother Nature erased many years of work, but Cynthia and I considered it a blessing because we returned to the Bay Area and settled here in Alameda where her son and granddaughter live,” Braun said.
Rebuilding his inventory after the devastating storm has put him in a position of taking a retrospective approach to his work process and an introspective stock of his journey. “Sometimes I felt like a piece of flotsam moving back and forth across the country, battered by the winds of change,” he added. Now, he happily considers Alameda to be his “forever home.”
Braun’s work exudes an ethereal quality reminiscent of nature’s movement; reflective water or an ephemeral sky, for example, perhaps due to the visceral nature of materials, the horizontal orientation of his work. Or maybe it is the fleeting and changing landscape of his own life experiences. He works on several large-panel paintings in various stages, furthering each organically along their lovely ways to fruition, capturing his emotional response to a subject, not just the subject itself. After painting with epoxy resin for the past 20 years, Braun is returning to a broader material palette. Paintings emerge in various forms: with pigmented epoxy resin on aluminum composite panels, with oil on canvas and linen, with encaustics on wood and with acrylics on panel or silk. After morning coffee and daily crossword puzzles, he enters his process by seeing which piece draws him in naturally. “I am driven by material and form, color and contrast, rhythm and balance. I consider myself lucky to have these portals to enter into to capture my experience,” Braun said.
The artists that have most influenced Braun are Klimt and Schiele, Chagall and Redon, Anselm Kiefer and Gerhard Richter. “What I love about Keifer is his outlandish textures and monumental images; Richter for his ability to be photorealistic as well as abstract; Redon’s depth of color and looseness; and Klimt, Schiele, and Chagall for embracing the figure in such wonderfully emotive ways,” he said. He attributes local artists Philippe Jestin, and Robin Denevan and Lola, who work in similar media, as impactful as well.
Braun is currently working on a series of landscape triptychs, figures caught in light and shadow, a couple of commissions, and some new experiments on silk. When asked what he hopes people experience when they look at his paintings he responded simply, “Joyous, timeless delightfulness.”
Braun also teaches an online class for the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He will be participating in San Francisco Open Studios No. 4 on Nov. 2 and 3 at Shared-SF at 739 Bryant St. and will have a two-person show with Ginny Parsons at Rhythmix Gallery in Alameda in 2020. For more information, visit his website at ChristoBraunFineArt.com.