After a short, but spirited run that included a “Proud Pussy” portrait of foe and fellow contestant Jaclyn, and a landscape made out of used and discarded wire, the New York–based artist Judith Braun was sent home on Bravo’s Work of Art Wednesday night. The challenge was to design a book cover for a Penguin classic — an assignment that Braun didn’t particularly take to. The judges weren’t impressed with the artist’s bold decision to spell Pride and Prejudice backward in her design. On the morning after her elimination, Braun spoke with Vulture about the commercial art/fine art divide, and how her Edirp and Ecidujerp composition did, indeed, channel Jane Austen.
What attracted you to the show in the first place?
I saw a call for people to audition. I watch Project Runway, Top Chef … I like the idea of skill-based reality, or skill-based reality competition. I thought I would be perfect for it. I thought I would perfectly fill their “older artist” slot.
I noticed that they did emphasize your age, 61, a lot. Did that bother you at all?
I did notice that was one of the points, but I wasn’t really surprised by it. It wasn’t a point that I wanted to overemphasize, but we’re all some age. Everyone is born on a certain day in the universe. That’s it. It’s not a competition for lifestyle. It’s just something people like to joke around about.
How did you find the judges?
I think they were abbreviating the issues to make certain points they feel will be digestible to the public. But I’m not going to critique the judges in an interview. I’ll let the rest of the world do that. The bloggers … everybody’s talking about it.
There was some palpable tension there between you and Jaclyn. Was that in the editing? Or did you two really not get along?
They edited it in that direction, but it was true. It did start early on. I don’t really have a lot of patience for a lot of whining and people who say, “people don’t understand me” and “I don’t have this and that and time … ” That sort of stuff put up a wall between me and her early on because I was not giving her that kind of sympathy, that kind of attention she needs to have always. There is all this other stuff, too, about what the ideas are in her work that I couldn’t figure out based on what she was saying. So I was trying to decipher that. But that’s fair. That’s what artists do — they try to decipher what each other is doing. And we agree to disagree, Jackie and I. I know it seemed at the end I was getting on people’s nerves, but I get along great with Nicole, Nao, Trong, John … I love John. There are always a couple that you do rub the right way.
After your elimination you said something to the effect of, “Maybe I didn’t belong in this situation, away from my process.” Do you think, in these three challenges, you got to show us who you are as an artist?
I think I got to show something more about me as an artist-person, an artist-worker, but not the actual kinds of things that I do in my studio. It just doesn’t lend itself to this format. Here, you’re pulling from a grab bag of resources. Basically, you bring yourself to the show and see what happens, as they say.
You seemed to have a particular aversion to this last challenge.
I think there’s some editing, but it’s true — that’s how I felt. I chose not to be a commercial artist. I could have done that. There was a time when I looked at those things — you know you look at things and make your choices. I chose to go down the road of fine art and not get a job in an advertising office. I don’t disrespect the field, but I was surprised at the challenge. I was honest about the way I approached it and I got into my own creative process. I felt the point they kept making about famous artists having done book covers, as if it sort of validated the whole idea, was kind of off. When a famous artist is invited to do a book cover, it’s a completely different thing than artists going out and designing book covers in hopes of getting recognition as an artist. Yeah, Picasso did a book cover. But that doesn’t really explain why it’s the same for us to do book covers.
So why the backward lettering?
Actually, when I got home from being on the show there was a show of Jane Austen — who I love as a writer; I think every word that she writes is a gem — there was a show of Jane Austen’s manuscripts at the Pierpont Morgan museum here in New York City. And there was a review of it in the New York Times that says that Jane Austen was writing letters to her niece by writing every word spelled backwards. Jane Austen! I have it right here in front of me! She wrote backwards! Not mirror, but spelled backwards, just as I did! I must have been channeling her, because I didn’t know that before.
What do you think would have happened had you spelled the title traditionally?
The judges said, “If you had just written it forward … ” But writing it forward is like a completely different work. Changing it to spell it correctly has nothing to do with the piece at all. I was being genuine to myself and I was fine with it. I thought it was a great way to go out. And I’ve got T-shirts! I took those words and scribbled them just how I did on the show and made T-shirts in Chinatown overnight. You want one? I have orange, bright yellow, and white, all with black print. They’re really cool. I had a viewing party here at my place. At the end of the show, everybody saw what happened and I opened this box and threw them out to everyone. It was a fun moment.