Lake Mexia is a thousand-acre span of abundance, celebration, nostalgia, and grief. From above, it appears as a bat flying out of a cave, two wings beating against a star-studded night. At only 20 feet deep, its sediment is a 60-year layer of history and community. “I am thinking about what it means to be a child of this lake,” says Diedrick Brackens for his second solo exhibition at Various Small Fires in Los Angeles.
For Brackens, whose textile narratives are shaped by his evolving encyclopedia of allegorical symbols, the lake near his birthplace of Mexia, Texas becomes the protagonist of his newest series of tapestries. Weaving hand-dyed cotton and synthetic yarns through a traditional loom, Brackens plumbs the area’s geographic features, boundary lines, flora, and fauna, as well as personal memories, folklore, and local news in eight new works defined by three recurring colors and creatures: crimson red, jet black, and blue/green define human figures, resplendent catfish, and wild dogs. The lake is their nexus.
Against an aquamarine backdrop, through the eye unburnt and blameless presents two figures jumping through rings of fire – portals that either bring them together or a powerful Rorschachian reflection amidst opposing elements. In the pondkeepers, two figures hold up a giant freshly caught catfish, dripping braided threads that cascade over the outstretched palms of a supplicant third figure. In grief has no gills, a figure is caught mid-jump through a body of water, their body split between a hypnotic sky and blood-red reservoir.
In these textiles, Brackens gathers together countless rapturous pastimes and childhood memories. A place also marked by unforgettable racial violence, the woven lake reveals such images in bits and pieces – loose fibers fraying along the edges – as a fragmented recollection might reveal itself in vivid parts. Employing a mix of historic influences from Kente cloth in West Africa and the mythical tapestries of medieval France, Belgium, and Italy, Brackens uses his growing symbology of animals and colors to honor a compounded space at human scale. The resulting form poses a haven for ritual, commemoration, and repose that unfolds in diaristic intimations and glimmers.
In addition to the physical work inside the gallery, Brackens transforms visual symbolisms into recited poetry, as heard from our five-channel exterior sound corridor. The self-recorded “pondkeepers poem” is a synesthetic meditation that echoes the sentiments Brackens shares in his textiles.
Diedrick Brackens (b. 1989, Mexia, TX, lives and works in Los Angeles, CA) received a BFA from the University of North Texas, Denton, TX, and an MFA in textiles from California College of the Arts, Oakland, CA. His work has been shown in solo exhibitions at Jack Shainman Gallery, New York, NY; New Museum, New York, NY; Various Small Fires, Los Angeles, CA; Sewanee University Art Gallery, TN; Ulrich Museum of Art, Wichita, KS; and Johansson Projects, Oakland, CA. Recent group exhibitions include Made in L.A. 2018, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; California African American Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Jewish Contemporary Art Museum, San Francisco, CA; Dimensions Variable, Miami, FL; Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, NY; and Denny Gallery, New York, NY. He is the recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Grant; Los Angeles Artadia Award; American Craft Council Emerging Artist Award; and the Wein Prize. Brackens is in the permanent collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX; New Orleans Museum of Art, LA; and the Oakland Museum of California, CA.