"There are expressionists and impressionist. I think I'm an aggravationist."- Charles Bragg
Whose world is more absurd, Charles Bragg's or ours? This is the question inevitably raised by the satirical visions so skillfully painted, engraved, sculpted, and drawn by this artist from the West Coast. Charles Bragg's pictorial lampoons and sardonic pageants - directed at such power groups as the military, the church, and the professions - somehow seems the essence of rationality.
Charles Bragg was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1931. He began his career as an artist in the early fifties, but it wasn't until 1968, at a hugely successful one-man show, that the style that has made him so popular really emerged. Since then, he has achieved worldwide recognition for his satirical studies of mankind and his environment. He has held solo exhibitions from San Francisco to Vienna, from New Orleans to Munich, and from Philadelphia to Honolulu and Long Beach. He has done commissions for PLAYBOY magazine, won several national awards for artistic merit, and been the subject of a PBS documentary, "Charles Bragg - One of a Kind." Charles Bragg currently resides in Hollywood Hills, California.
Charles Bragg's book ABSURD WORLD, displays fully the wit and insight of this provocative social commentator, as well as his technical virtuosity. The panorama of human frailties - greed, vanity, and hypocrisy, among others - is personified in droll, gnome-like characters, painted in rich vibrant colors or etched with a love of the turn of a line. Bragg has often been compared to Bosch, Goya, and Daumier. Like them, he is a master of the traditional graphic skills, which he uses to amuse. His sculptures of judges, sportsmen, misers, and voluptuaries, of God and Don Quixote, demonstrate the same caricature gift in a blend of satire, irony, and art.
Amidst the abundance of fertile and varied talent that flourishes on the West Coast today, Charles Bragg occupies a peculiarly unique position. Though he portrays people, he is not a figurative artist in the plastic sense in which California artists have come to be known.
In a most consistent manner, he has created a cast of characters who have lost their souls while acting out depravities through tragicomic burlesques of morality and ethics. Like a visual re-enactment of Gertrude Stein's wonderful tale, "I Know I'm a Queen Because I Wear a Crown," his generals embody their values in symbols of their acquisitiveness and vanity such as phony and ornate medallions.
Bragg's bittersweet people are pompous, voiceless, pious and cruel! They are completely believable, even lovable; yet they are deranged, pretentious deathmongers and benevolent despots with serious oral problems. They obviously over eat to compensate for a lack of normal gratification. To sum up, they are nice-looking, costumed 20th century cousins of Goya's Saturn devouring his son.
There is so much to see in Bragg's work that one is apt to forget what one is looking at, that is - a work composed of lush, intuitive geometry modeled architectonically, using subtle renaissance form. Genteel fantasies are woven into a complexity of visual (image-idea) and psychological patterns in such a way that gestalt experience occurs surprisingly often.
Though his scale is intimate, Bragg's compositions are monumental enough to be translated verbatim into mural scale. The crux of the matter is simply that these remarkably communicative expressions go infinitely beyond storytelling into the realm of affirming truth by exposing myths and lies. Charley pricks pins into pomposity, not people. He loves people, and his work transcends being merely narrative because his work basically expresses conditions and values, not itsy-bitsy genre situations. False prophets and soulless mythic heroes are on their way out and Charlie Bragg recorded Act III for posterity.
Charlie Bragg passed away on January 9, 2017.