Brandi Twilley, Napping by the AC, 2016, oil on canvas, 60 × 84".

Brandi Twilley, Napping by the AC, 2016, oil on canvas, 60 × 84".

Brandi Twilley

Lord Ludd

Brandi Twilley, Napping by the AC, 2016, oil on canvas, 60 × 84".

The reclining female nude continues to extend her long arm over figurative painting. Formally agreeable and subjectively compelling, she sprawls languidly across the horizontal axis of the canvas—an alluring body in repose, inviting inquiry. The trope is also singularly affiliated with the legacy of male painters portraying female prostitutes. Brandi Twilley repurposed this art-historical motif as the locus of her most recent body of work, in which the artist re-creates fanciful figure drawings she made as a girl, inspired by the sex-worker protagonists of films such as Pretty Woman (1990) and Angel (1984). Her recent exhibition of these pieces included five large oil paintings and more sketch-like small oils delineated by fine marks and presented on highly buffed, gessoed grounds. Twilley situates her figures against tableaux remembered from her family’s home, which burned down when she was sixteen—backdrops consisting of scattered boom boxes, VHS tapes, shorn 1990s-era pumps, thigh-high boots, and other accoutrements of the time. Twilley’s nude and seminude figures—strong, attractive women in fishnet stockings and lingerie—are not so much specific people as embodiments of the artist’s childhood alter egos.

The smaller works were instructive as guides to Twilley’s inspiration, but even with her elegant line work (whose easy confidence brings to mind the figurations of Rita Ackermann), they paled in comparison to the five large, dolefully saturated oils on canvas. Those works, whose morassed grounds were occasionally punctuated by vibrant overpainted french-fry sprigs, cockroaches, and ambiguous yellow stains, were luminous and limpid, as if John Singer Sargent had imbued the recumbent figures’ skins with internal light.

But beyond these canvases’ impressive draftsmanship, what is one to make of them? Of the large oils on view, one of the most recent, Napping by the AC, 2016, was the most immersive. The snoozing character who sprawls on the artist’s childhood couch has indulged in cigarettes and takeout, the remnants of which are now strewn across the carpet. Her shirt covers her head next to a spilled fast-food soda cup; the cat by her limp hand licks its own genitals. This feline companion—guilelessly laying bare what the fantasy whore herself will not—perhaps provides a clue to the collected works on view. Its motivation is carnal; its depiction neither elides the reality of genitalia, their necessary upkeep and their pleasures, nor succumbs to the sordid romance of the hazily rendered supine nude. The cat is active, engaged, and vigorous in its autoeroticism. While Twilley’s women, detached with glazed eyes or passed out on the couch, personify a femaleness that is not yet fully formed, this animal is ready—for sex, for dinner, for whatever.

Cat Kron