Young Artists 2023 Art

Meet the Woman Who Snuck Into the Depp v. Heard Trial To Make Art out of Courtroom Drama

Isabelle Brourman bears a striking resemblance to Lee Lozano. Like the late iconoclast, the New York–based artist maintains a rigorous painting practice that draws her attentions inward, while simultaneously pursuing an undercover life that draws her out into the world—to the edge of disappearance.

Brourman moonlights as a sketch artist, sneaking into courtrooms to bear witness to landmark trials all over the U.S. Getting access to these courtrooms often requires a disguise. Sometimes it’s as simple as carrying a sketchboard; other times it’s more ornate—a certain kind of blouse paired with a dusty rose lipstick, ever so slightly smudged across teeth, can make you invisible. (When Brourman covered Depp v. Heard, she spent months in disguise. Her recordings of this marathon performance exist in the form of mixed media artworks or Notes app diatribes.)

Artwork of former Donald Trump Org controller and co-defendant Jeffrey McConney by Isabelle Brourman. Image courtesy of the artist.

Unlike her seasoned peers who work to capture the room’s realism, Brourman is not interested in likeness, nor in casting villains and angels. The 30-year-old is there to capture emotional information—what is lost in a verdict. She feeds off trespassing’s high risk and reward, enjoying adrenaline’s tightrope grip and the way it transforms her from bystander to participant.

Brourman’s characters are not for an audience; they are a way for the artist to take back her body. Last summer, at “Virginia is for Lovers,” her show at Murmurs gallery in Los Angeles, Brourman brought the terrorizing physicality of the courtroom to life by making a courtroom replica adorned with her Amber Heard and Johnny Depp trial drawings, including bar napkin scratchings—small breadcrumbs pointing to the afters-culture of celebrity trials.

Isabelle Brourman, "Virginia is for Lovers" (Installation View), 2023. Image courtesy of the artist and Murmurs.

One piece, titled Bruise Expert, hung on Heard’s side of the reconstructed courtroom and laid out her contusions like a mood ring chart—each color swatch paired with a meaning. The watercolor, colored pencil, and ink artwork was inspired by the testimony given by Depp’s metadata expert witness, who opined on the extent of her injuries. “It is interesting that someone in metadata would be called as an expert on bruises,” the artist points out.

Brourman is currently attending another high profile trial, which means we only have an hour to chat. “I am fighting to play,” she tells me. “Each trial demands something different, each person on the stand, each city. Where is the release, and what needs to be released?”

For more about CULTURED's 2023 Young Artists, read our features with Adriant Khadafhi BerealGiangiacomo Rossetti, and Kahlil Robert Irving.