Sebastiaan Bremer is renowned for transforming ordinary snapshots into grandly baroque and surreal tableaux by a careful process of retouching and enlargement. Since his first solo show, in 1994, he has exhibited in venues such as the Tate Gallery, London, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, New York, and the Aldrich Museum, Connecticut. He has been based in the United States since 1992.
Although Bremer has always been interested in photography, it wasn’t until the late 1990s that he began to draw directly on the surface of photographs. He has been inspired in part by nineteenth century spirit photography, and fin de siècle Symbolists such as the poet Rainer Maria Rilke, and painter Odilon Redon, but his methods partake of advanced photographic techniques. Often he will begin with a simple snapshot of friends or family or familiar places, and after enlarging it far beyond conventional dimensions, he will begin altering and embellishing the image with India ink and photographic dye.
He has often used the ink to produce fine patterns of lines reminiscent of cobwebs, or readings from seismographs. Photographic dyes also enable him to blur and mute some forms while accentuating others, and make some colors bloom while others recede into mysterious darkness. The result is an image that seems to literally vibrate with hidden consequence, as if the subject matter has sent cracks across the surface of the picture. Whilst Bremer’s choice of images inevitably grounds his work in his own biography, his imagery also makes reference to alchemy, art, and the occult, establishing unexpected connections between ordinary life, history, and the unconscious.
Sebastiaan Bremer lives and works in New York. He studied at the Vrije Academie, The Hague, and Skowhegan School of Art and Sculpture, Maine. He has published two major catalogs: Monkey Brain (2003), and Avila (2006). His work is included in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
My process is playful. There is no clear plan or story I am trying to tell. I manipulate photographs which evoke a familiar feeling—something I have a deep connection to. As I draw on these photographs, a story is told—something seen through my eyes, an intrinsic human response to emotion and to memory. What I create are visual manifestations of my ideas.
A total of 14 black and white photographic works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against cream colored walls in the main gallery space, the smaller side room, and the entry area. All of the works are hand painted archival inkjet prints on matte paper with pigment ink, made in 2016 and 2017. Physical sizes range from roughly 7×5 to 37×50 (or reverse) and all of the works are unique.
Today’s show: “Sebastiaan Bremer: Ave Maria” is on view at Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York through Saturday, June 24. The solo exhibition presents a series of recent works that use photographs that the Dutch artist took 23 years ago while living in New York.
Dutch artist Sebastiaan Bremer is working to build a sanctuary in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Hailing from Amsterdam, Bremer moved to New York 25 years ago, making it his home. He lives and works in the neighborhood, his studio situated at the cozy intersection of Banker and N 15th. Across the street, sits the San Damiano Mission Church. Originally riding the line between church and community center, one day Bremer noticed the church’s old wooden doors were replaced with inviting glass ones. No doubt curious, Bremer walked in, finding two Franciscan monks that are working to renovate the space, as well as bring it back to its initial goal—community.
Dutch artist Sebastiaan Bremer first started out recreating his own photographs with paint. In 1998, he attended the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine, where he trialled his now [signature] style of drawing on photographs. Part of a wider series, this piece originates from a box of negatives Sebastiaan discovered featuring images of his parents and siblings on holiday in the Alps in 1973. (He had been too young to go.) “It is hard to make profound remarks about happiness for some reason,” he says, reflecting on his practice. “Perhaps it’s related to what is said about how hard it is to make a good comedy film; it’s easier to faithfully depict drama. For me it is, anyway.”
New York–based Dutch artist Sebastiaan Bremer mines extant images for his photographic alterations; his sources are usually personal, but he also looks for images that carry wider cultural implications. He is interested in how we consume images: what does a photographic image signify? Which archetypes does it represent and what personal meanings does it carry? In an effort to bring forth latent associations, Bremer makes free-associative changes to his found photographs—either adding or subtracting, or both.
Sebastiaan Bremer's new monograph To Joy is now available through Frame Publishers!
In advance of the official release of Sebastiaan Bremer – To Joy, which is the latest book to be published by Frame, we caught up with the artist for an exclusive interview about his influences and inspiration, and to find out about his groundbreaking painting technique.
The US-based Dutch artist has a habit of discovering old photos and transforming them through his own artistic intervention, using a technique that he developed in the late 1990s. It came about through his use of photography as a sketch or model and his love of adding, changing, enhancing and – even – entering the picture.
Under and among layers of scratches and paint in these mostly black-and-white mixed-media works lurk figures and glimpses of an artist’s studio. A close look revealed that the 16 pieces in this show were actually photographs that had been artfully altered and obscured through digital means. The chromogenic prints contain imagery pulled from such artists as Picasso, Matisse, Brassaï, and Bill Brandt. The photos consist of combined fragments and whole paintings whose color Bremer darkened and desaturated. He
then either “etched” the images, scratching the dark photo emulsion to leave white lines or he cut away larger white shapes. Tiny white dots of paint were applied to some images, covering the flesh of a rounded female form, for instance. Other works here included brush marks in blue or black, and a few featured color in the photo itself, as in one peachy image of a woman’s back.
This strong show of 16 altered C-prints by Amsterdam-born, New York-based Sebastiaan Bremer (his third with Edwynn Houk) finds the now-middle-aged artist's oeuvre growing in sophistication. Known for his unique mashups of hand-limned patterns on personal, snapshot-style photographs with a nostalgic if trippy, psychedelic air, Bremer seems bent on perfecting a kind of formal mastery.
There is a palpable intimacy to the phantasmic and fantastical photographs of Dutch artist, Sebastiaan Bremer, who has been working out of NYC since 1992, exhibiting internationally at such venues as Hales Gallery, Galerie Barbara Thumm, and PS1 MoMA to name a handful. The multimedia works present rich visual palimpsests wherein Bremer draws appropriated images, private symbols, and expressive patterns directly onto photographs. To hear him describe the intricate process of finding a photo (often stashed away in his personal collection for years) and “caressing” it with the X-ACTO knife, is akin to listening to a surgeon recite the details of an operation, and if a surgeon’s science is the body, then Bremer’s craft is a psychological study in how the mind processes art.
It’s not often that on loading someone’s website we let out a gasp but the first full-page photograph on Sebastiaan Bremer’s did just that. Looking through the long grass somewhere in the mountains colour rises like pollen from a meadow and you can almost hear the feint hum of high summer as a small child peaks through the wild flowers.
There has been a lot of painted photography in town lately (Sam Falls’s recent outing at Higher Pictures, Sarah Anne Johnson’s current show at Saul), but Bremer’s is the most sophisticated, the most excessive, and the most extraordinary. Working in a variety of scales, from modest to massive, he covers the surfaces of his often appropriated photographs with an intricate network of fine white dotted lines. As clustered dots ape the texture of shagreen, some resolve into figures or objects, and others into pure, if utterly over-the-top, decoration—Art Nouveau at its most psychedelic. Because many of Bremer’s subjects, both photographed and drawn, are female nudes, the atmosphere is especially louche and seductive. It’s every odalisque’s boudoir and every voyeur’s fantasy. Through April 23.