People often doubt they can read or understand art. Some struggle with this feeling of needing to know what’s outside the art so that they can successfully interpret why they are even looking at it in the first place. The great thing about Margaret Braun’s Semi Tropical is that no single reading of them is right or wrong.
In her first solo exhibition, Braun’s body of work contains narratives based on personal associations, coupled with “foggy memories of late summer nights” you may not need to remember to enjoy the work. The kind of work viewers can appreciate with a smile because, at one point in time, these common objects were once the highlight of their foggy memories.
The former lobby, now contemporary art gallery off 290 and Mangum, was occupied by an electrician before artist Bret Shirley transformed it into individual studios, a gallery and a woodshop. Shirley, who describes himself as a “punk rock dude who makes pretty art,” aims to make sure every opening reception is worthwhile to those who make the trip out there.
“We’re about fostering artistic dialogue,” Bret Shirley said. “We’ve had round-table conversations here, we like grilling hot dogs and serving margaritas, and soon, bands will be playing in the space.”
BS Projects opened this past June, and in its sixth exhibition, artist Margaret Braun uses various mediums to explore what her life in Texas looks like with her show Semi Tropical.
“It’s not so much specific to a season but in trying to come up with a name for the show, […] I read [online] that the climate of Texas is considered subtropical or semitropical,” Margaret Braun said. “It’s not fully a day at the beach, and neither is this work; it’s just semi-tropical, semi-beach-y.”
Originally from South Hampton, New York, Braun grew up painting and enrolled in an undergraduate program in Baltimore thinking that that was the medium she would pursue but turned to craft mediums and printmaking. Upon traveling around the country and taking a hiatus from painting, she now works as a painter for a mural company.
“Having this job as a mural painter and now making this body of work, it’s interesting that I think in painting again and that it has come full circle,” Braun said.
Described as one who collects not only objects but also memories, Braun uses “adventure, or experience, to explore both physical and human nature and how and where the two intersect.”
Braun told Byline Houston that she had been a collector of objects for as long as she can remember. In creating this body of work just as 2018 ended and 2019 began, she took the idea of making something out of those common collected objects such as a bottle cap, pepper from a garden or a slice of lime, and frames them to “act as a feeling of sameness with the viewer.” Admitting that Semi Tropical is conceptual, Braun said visitors who know her work won’t find any deep, hidden meanings with this show. It simply — and beautifully — describes the show’s mission to explore what her life looks like in Houston and the things she sees and interacts with daily.
“It’s a little bit silly, it’s a little bit quirky, and that’s also my personality,” Margaret Braun explained. “Looking at this show, it [incorporates] tropical [hints] but is also simple and clean.”
As she shares some of the backstories for each painting, pinhole phrase or sculpture based on found objects, she gives herself the space to reconstruct that moment, an event from her past and some of its sensory details, and relive it, as it were. This is apparent when I ask about the “Mermaid Busts,” one of the many sculptures shown in Semi Tropical.
“They were from my last birthday party,” she said. “A friend gave me a whole bag of [these partial plastic mermaids], and they ended up everywhere around the house. People were stepping on them, and to me, just looking at them broken, they were a classical bust sculpture.”
That distinct mental reconstruction of how something once was that is now, shaped and produced for someone else’s viewing offered a non-participant, third-person point of view to the nature of Braun’s extracted memories.
The work, titled “Whatever,” a book of poems, she explained she invents combinations of words and will even borrow — or appropriate — them as seen in her piece “Gas Station Vacation,” a wooden shelf hung just as you enter the gallery. The words “come back soon” were painted on the found panel and a vintage beer can sit, acting as a bookend for her book of poems.
“It’s a sign at the gas station I drive by all the time,” she said.
Semi-Tropical discovers the qualities that make Braun’s art universal and appealing to any age. In showing you these images, the artist demands — in the nicest, most light-hearted way possible — that you, as the participant “remember who and where [you] were back then, and to forget it all as [you] move toward tomorrow.”