Andrea Broyles' Self-Portrait, 1995 | Oil on wood | 24in RoundSelf-Portrait, 1995
Oil on wood
24" Round
By Alexandra Fuller
From "A Gathering" by Andrea Broyles
Available for purchase.


Here, in portable form, is the art of a woman who with irreverent fearlessness captures the untouchable: that magical moment out of the corner of your eye; the word on the tip of your tongue; the exact inexplicable sense of falling that occurs right between sleep and awake (see especially Properties of In-Between, 1997, page 26 as well as Forest Ghosts II, 2007, page 38). And yet her work is utterly earth-connected, life-affirming, real. With sleeves rolled up, Broyles takes those untouchable places and gives them a very physical reality. In this way she is, as many people for whom the earth and horses and children and dogs are constantly underfoot, an artist of absolute authenticity and no-nonsense compassion (see her deliciously kind Confirmation, 2002, page 57 or her tender Beach Lady, 2005, page 60).

The work of all artists is to show us ourselves, to give voice to the voiceless, to bear witness, to entertain and enlighten. Broyles' wit (for above all, she is witty) is wrapped all at once in her special blend of pathos and beauty. From the very beginning it has been thus. Her Untitled Installation, 1988 (page 10) is all at once raunchy, disturbing and a suffocation of sleep? love? war? The immediate idea is of sex and death, malaria and romance, the dreamscape of the diseased is followed closely by an idea of beauty and sadness. Such fearlessness (at such a young age) speaks of an artist whose fingers are first and foremost in the fertile stuff of life yet never far from the equally fertile stuff of death. See too, from the same period, the haunting, exquisite The Zone (page 21), a courageous acceptance of the artists' gifts. Here is a moment caught on paper, when the artist and viewer are both forced to accept the partial death that must come with every act of art (whether in its creation or its viewing); the death of ego, the laying down of control, the acceptance of a soul-world. See too, a decade later, her uncertainly voyeuristic, utterly honest Self Portrait, 1995 (page 52) — if there was ever a knowing nod to the constant death of self, this is it.

But yet the wit is constant, always just around the corner &mdash see especially Date Night, 2007 (page 68), a fabulously intimate moment familiar to all of us, painted with such wry compassion that we laugh with recognition even as we feel the artist's affection for this couple. A fiercely private person in life, Broyles is extraordinarily generous guide of her emotions in art with an especially generous laugh. Her emotions are never unrestrained however, and never, ever gratuitous. It is as if the artist has done the hard work of exploring her own role as mother, her own rebellious body, her own love of the earth and made it beautiful (and sometimes funny) for us, even as we surprise ourselves with an intake of breath &mdash see her thoughtful, reluctant angel in Exit, 1990 (page 22) and her re-imagined violence-turned-healer in Bullet II, 2007 (page 40).

Broyles, never an unintentional artist, insists on engaging the viewer at every level. It's hard not to want to touch her art and it's impossible to look away. See, especially, her most casually beautiful, provoking work Torso with Bullets, 1997 (page 14). What of Neighbors, 2003 (page 35)? Who are these haunted people and by what are they haunted? By us? By something that has come to them or by something that is coming to us? By their own appearance or by our sudden intrusion as viewers? And why do they stay with us long after we look away? The answer of course is always &mdash always first and foremost &mdash the earthy laughter of the artist, never unkind, but always real and more than a little wry, never taking herself too seriously but allowing herself and us to take art as seriously as life. And death. — ALEXANDRA FULLER

Alexandra Fuller was born in England in 1969. She moved to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) with her family when she was two. After that country's war of independence (1980) her family moved first to Malawi and then Zambia. She lives now in Wyoming with her husband, two daughters and a son. She has written two memoirs about her experiences in southern and south-central Africa: DON'T LET'S GO TO THE DOGS TONIGHT: An African Childhood (Random House, 2001); SCRIBBLING THE CAT: Travels with an African Soldier (The Penguin Press, 2004) and one non-fiction narrative set in Wyoming THE LEGEND OF COLTON H BRYANT (The Penguin Press, 2008). Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications including National Geographic, The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Vogue and Granta. She is the recipient of the Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage (2005); the Booksense Non- Fiction Book of the Year (2001) as well as the Miriam Holtby Award.