Every Braithwaite painting is a tantalising mix of fact and fiction delivered in the compositional styles of traditional portraiture. They belie their apparent simplicity by becoming visual riddles in which overlays of social signifiers and cultural dynamics come to establish dream-like psychological narratives.
Home Truths uses irony and contradiction, the symbolic and the metaphoric. Braithwaite pushes imbalance, builds a collective subconscious and celebrates personality foibles. The animals have become performers, displaying human characteristics and behaviours.
Good as Gold (2013/14) and Fool’s Gold (2013/14) have been informed by an early Victorian era photograph taken in Skippers Canyon, Central Otago, during the gold rush. The Capuchin monkey wore a cap and had a pipe. Braithwaite uses those props again as personality and character keys. The monkey’s gaze is directly on the viewer and in a typical Braithwaite manner there comes an inversion of hierarchy. The obsessive search for gold by humans is delivered as paradoxes and questioned by the monkey. All that for this?
Go for Gold (2013/14) pointedly questions our values. The endangered Otago skink shoulders the (impossible) burden of a (seemingly oversized) gold nugget and is presented as trapped in the growing darkness of its own landscape.
Sharp contrast and humour underpin most of Braithwaite’s painting practice, too. Time Will Tell (2013) is an incisive joke about the passing of time, personality and character, social position and the inevitable gap between perception and deception. Marking Time (2013/14) attaches the legend of the Mackenzie Country dog by wrapping it in a shawl of Mackenzie tartan. Gold Trail (2013/14) uses the beckoning gold-tipped walking stick held in the dog’s mouth as an invitation to walk down the remembered paths and tracks back to gold itself.
Colourful Memory (2013/14) is an assured delightful visual art-joke. It is also an unusual work in Braithwaite’s career in having explicit biographical content and the impulse of childhood memory - of the family goat and Dutch still lifes on place mats.
By any criteria applied, Grand Times (2013/14) is a major work and a tour de force. A Victorian lounge scene is set. One skink stands on a mantle clock, the other sits on a royal blue upholstered chair. The accessories add identity, becoming markers of class and status. Each holds a gold nugget insouciantly, tails nonchalantly draped, while surveying their triumphant circumstance with trapped self-consciousness.