Brandi Twilley, “Smokey on the Yellow Chair” (2016), oil on canvas, 46 x 62 inches (all photos courtesy Sargent’s Daughters gallery and the artist)

Brandi Twilley’s paintings in the current exhibition, Where the Fire Started, at Sargent’s Daughters have already garnered significant praise. John Yau, for example, skillfully made the case for the honesty of the work and its lack of sentimentality. The paintings, which mainly feature the home Twilley grew up in until it burnt to the ground when she was 16, depict windows in a subtly astute manner. They function as portals in curious ways: they indicate the painter’s glimpse of spaces beyond the bleak circumstances of that house, and in seeing the significance of these spaces through Twilley’s hand, I identify with her and wish for that slim chance of escape.

Brandi Twilley, “The Window” (2017), oil on canvas, 46 x 64 inches

In looking at “Smokey on the Yellow Chair” (2016), I’m really trying to look out of it, because the room has such a miasma of chaos that it is one of the few places my vision can settle on and not despair. Most things in sight — the walls, floors, chairs, and plywood barriers placed over two other windows — are marred with stains as if a wave of grease had arced into the house and splashed down to permeate the surfaces here and there. Aside for the bed covered with a blue tarp that appears to have protected the very young Twilley from water that leaked from the ceiling, there is a general mood of labored indifference to the entire house. Yet, in the little corner of the window that evades the tacked-up cloth imitating a curtain, the miasma lifts a little. There, I see a deeply cerulean, evening blue, that is another space, even another dimension in which things might not always founder toward destruction. I see the escape Twilley sees and I wish it for her.  

The transportive properties of her windows are made more evident inWindow” (2016), where, past a plywood bar that bisects the view, lies a blue that must have been dreamed up. It’s a deeper and richer tone than what appears in the print copies from Picasso’s Blue Period that are stuck to her wall and a cabinet. So the imagined getaway is not synonymous with the transporting qualities of art. It’s something else; I’m not sure what. There’s escape here, these pictures say, if you can but reach it. A twilight window will let you through.

Where the Fire Started continues at Sargent’s Daughters. (179 East Broadway, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through August 18. 

Seph Rodney, PhD, is a former senior critic and Opinion Editor for Hyperallergic, and is now a regular contributor to it and the New York Times. In 2020, he won the Rabkin Arts Journalism prize and in...