Brad Braverman

Man shares an afternoon of passion with his lover - or is that his pit bull? - on a couch. Guy gets slapped around then raped - or is that loved? - by his boyfriend. Fellow strokes his lover - who's lying dead in a hospital bed.

"That's my ultimate seduction: getting someone to watch an act of necrophilia," says artist/ graphic designer/ erotic film maker Bradley Braverman.

For Braverman, seduction is what it's all about. Sensuous bodies, erotic gestures, and glamorous, impressionistic photography draw the viewer into the film vignettes, billboard-sized stills, and early photographs that make up Rawshock, Braverman's homo-erotic photo-video installation. Once there, the viewer confronts such issues as domestic violence, the death of a lover, the loss of childhood feelings of separateness and invisibility. " I use images as a way to get into these issues," says Braverman, who as Bad Brad has made his living in the pornographic film industry for the past four years. " I want to hold the viewers attention so they don't fast forward."

The centerpiece of this exhibit is Rawshock, a series of four hard core homo-erotic video vignettes. The title derives from Rorschach, the psychological test that has a participant study a series of ink blots and interpret their meaning. There's no right or wrong answer, but the test does provide insights into the participant's psyche. Braverman seeks the same kind of ambiguity in his work, as well.

"My images are constructed to convey little judgment," he says. "I'm not saying,'Cry at this moment' or 'Feel angry at this villain now.' I hope people will respond to my work with feelings - powerful feelings - and discover something about themselves in the process."

And how could viewers not respond to images of bestiality, necrophilia, rape, and domestic violence in the four vignettes that comprise Rawshock?

Inspired by the O. J. Simpson trial, "TV Violence" depicts a domestic rape scene. "It's about mistaking violence for an act of love," Braverman says. "About how in relationships, one person often acts out the victim; the other, the victimizer."

The Last Kiss, a vignette in which a man steals into a hospital bed to make love to his dead lover's corpse, was so shocking that "a professional pornographic-film maker fast forwarded through it," Braverman says. " He was too fearful of his own mortality and the mortality of his lovers."

Two billboard-sized photo series in this exhibit draw the viewer in with compelling images - and make the viewer linger to consider the messages within. One, Strip, is a series of three photographs depicting a beautiful man removing his shirt. Eight images of a gorgeous guy sucking his thumb compose the other, Thumb Prints.

"There is something sensuous about sucking your thumb," Braverman says. "In our childhood, your allowed to do that. It's the eternal infant image. It's important to be connected to that."

The photographs are actually stills from a videotape, frozen in a computer, then blown up to 48" x 68" size and printed on luminous silver paper. The paper, mounted on heavy plastic, is reminiscent of a TV monitor and makes the image seem alive and three dimensional - a moment frozen in time.

"These are beautiful bodies," Braverman continues. "You're seduced to look at them and pause. You might even stop and think about being a child and sucking your thumb - and maybe become angry that someone made you stop. "I have a sensuous, erotic response to these images. I wouldn't jerk off but I am responding to it."

A sampling of Braverman's early work rounds out this exhibit. These 13 black and white photographs are formal, slick, and stylized; they reflect Braverman's training as a graphic designer.

Perhaps the most compelling is a series of five images called AutoErotic Suicide. The series - originally 15 pieces when it was first displayed in 1994 - depicts lovely creatures drowned in swimming pools, washed up on beaches, lying in bathtubs with blood wrists, hanging in showers, plunging knives into their own breasts.

Like much of Braverman's work, these pieces are erotic and beautiful, disturbing and ambiguous. They juxtapose the attractive and the repulsive, the handsome and the hideous. "You're drawn in by this beautiful, nude body. And then you begin to realize that it's bloody; it's dead. And you wonder why."

Braverman's response to learning he was HIV positive, AutoErotic Suicide is about choice and empowerment. It reflects Braverman's belief that in a society shadowed by AIDS, it's important to have control over your own destiny - even if that means choosing suicide rather than suffering.

From the time he entered Kindergarten, Braverman's talent for the visual arts was becoming apparent. While other students were busy learning nursery rhymes and showing and telling, Braverman created elaborate panoramas and other pieces that earned district wide awards.

After highschool, Braverman studied graphic design, printmaking and painting at the Kansas City Art Institute ( BFA, 1983), the Saci Studio Art Center in Florence, and Amherst College. Later, he moved to Los Angeles and eventually set up shop as a graphic designer.

Braverman's design work appears in national publications and his fine art background is represented by galleries from Los Angeles to New York. But he's earned most of his notoriety as an erotic film maker - a profession he entered in 1991 after designing video boxes for other director's pornographic films. His first film, Fetish, swept the Adult Video News Awards, the porn industry's answer to the Oscar. Since then, critics say, his work has made " an aesthetic leap forward" in gay porn, " elevated the genre to the art-house level," and earned comparisons to the work of Andy Warhol, Bruce Webber and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Questions about where the art leaves off and pornography begins have long surrounded Braverman's images. He insists that his work is appropriate to the gallery as it is to the bedroom.

And, indeed his commercial videos explore the same themes and exhibit the same ambiguity - pull-you-in gorgeous images coupled with shocking revelations - that are seen in his gallery work.

In one of his films, hush..., there is a moment of passion between lovers in a shower. Suddenly, words appear across the chest of one of the men: "How many times can I be kissed before I die?"

We're not talking pizza delivery boys here.

A film critic for the Los Angeles Reader may have explained it best."Braverman focuses on the fine line between life and death, ecstasy and revulsion, and particularly on that gray area between pain and pleasure," the reviewer wrote. "The jarring..images will shock, but seem entirely appropriate to the theme of life as a tightrope to walk on or hang by."

Ann Wylie
September 1995
Kansas City, MO


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