Brenda Phillips ’78: Painting the Brain Poetic
An androgynous figure on a throne, crowned and red-robed, stares frankly at the viewer. Artist Brenda Phillips ’78 can easily name the origin of her partly collaged canvas, rendered in saturated pastels and emerald-colored paints: William Butler Yeats.
After complaining of gradual memory loss ten years ago, Brenda consulted physicians, but received no concrete diagnosis. With a family history of dementia-related illnesses—some relatives had died young (her mother, age sixty-four, died of Parkinson’s)—Brenda was determined to not fall prey to a legacy of ill health. Her resolve and abiding spiritual faith led her to the task of keeping her mind agile and preventing further worsening of her memory.
“In 2002, I read every book that could be gotten about memory loss,” said Brenda, “and they all recommended memorizing as a strategy for keeping your brain functional. So I decided that I was going to memorize a poem by my favorite poet, Yeats.”
One memorized poem turned into over a dozen committed to her memory, all of which informed one of Brenda’s most important artistic series: the “Yeats Collection.” All sixteen paintings in the series are interpretations of sixteen poems, created after Brenda had “internalized a poem, which then magically appears on the canvas.” She calls this mode of working “the right brain”—a nonverbal/visual mode of painting without conscious intent. What had started as a fundamental exercise in brain agility resulted in a flurry of artistic expression.
March 30, 2012