Back when I met with Grace Borengasser for a studio visit, she told me to check out her friend Brian's work. "This is his. He is awesome," she told me, pointing at a piece on the wall. ( By the way, Grace, Brian says THANK YOU! )
I got home and remembered her saying something about a shipping container....my curiosity was peaked. I looked through my notes, found his name and "Googled" the guy. I'm glad I did!
Check out the photos and interview from my studio visit after the jump:
|"Modern Day Cowboy"|
|Texas woodcuts ( beware of imitations..I've seen some around! )|
EC: How long have you been here? When did you set this studio up?
BP:I'd say...three months?
EC:Wow! So, it's new?
BP:Yes, very new. We've only had the house for 6 or 7 months..and then we bought this, and it sat here for a month. Then my friend Jared Connor called and said that he could help me start framing it in, so ..
I usually don't take people up on their offers for help, cuz I just don't want to bother anybody..but when he offered I said, "I gotta take you up on that." Then my friend Jason Culbertson helped install the door and window which was a huge part that I couldn't have done myself. After their help, I did the rest. I just started grabbing scraps from the pile.[ Pointing around ]I found this on the street..all this is salvaged...this is from the Dive bar on Guadalupe...
I know the owner. They called and said they were redoing the back and I could come and get a bunch of plywood and 2 x 4s.
Everybody just kinda helped.
EC:Do you think the thing that helps most when working with salvaged materials is building a community around yourself that helps you out?
BP:Yeah, putting the word out helps for sure. Look on Craigslist..you can find a lot of stuff. Y'know, honestly, it just takes some looking around. But definitely friends will help... they want to get rid of it. If you just put the word out, people will start calling. Then, yeah, you get so much offered that you have to turn some down or you're going to be a hoarder with a snake pit in the backyard.
It's been good. It's really fun for me because this is, of course, the studio that I've always wanted, and I can say I didn't break the bank on it. It just took a lot of work.
EC:Something I think a lot of people might be intimidated by..if you're saying that anyone can do this, anyone can find the materials and get help from their community..is building stuff by themselves.
We're usually not taught as children to build things anymore...it's a skill that not everyone has..
BP:Yeah. In this generation though, you can "Youtube" anything..and you can figure it out. You're gonna smash your finger sometimes, and you're gonna build stuff wrong a lot of times, but that's how you learn to do it right. Even this stuff is not done professionally. There are gaps in the wood and some of them are cut wrong, and...but it fits the aesthetic that I like. It's a good fit for me, cuz I can mess it up and it kind of looks like its supposed to be that way.
I like stuff that's not perfect, and so..I understand what you're saying.The only suggestion I would have for those people is to just do it. You'll figure it out.
BP:Yeah. And you can find lots of stuff on the Internet to teach you step by step..how to do things, how to handle tools, what tools you'll need, where to find salvaged materials or cheaper materials... it's all out there.
I didn't have anybody teach me, really..I just started. I bought a house when I was 28 and had to figure stuff out.
Just get your hands dirty and go for it.
EC:While we're on the topic of salvaged materials..why don't you talk about why you use them...
BP:I started out using salvaged wood pieces because I had a pile of scraps of wood in my garage...this is probably 8 or 9 years ago..or maybe even longer..but I decided to put them together on another piece of wood so I could paint on it instead of throwing the wood away.
Once I did that, I was hooked. It took me years to get through all of the canvases I already had stretched because I wanted to paint on wood. I liked the dimensional feel... I liked using something that was going to be trash and making something nice out of it.
It's more of a thrill than it is anything else. Then I realized that even though it wasn't intentional, I wanted to educate people about how we waste too much as a society. Y'know, if you put a little bit of thought into using stuff that you see just laying around your house, it gets your creativity going, and you get more ideas. It's just fun..and it's a good way of keeping perfectly good stuff out of landfills.
..So anything I can do to help people not waste so much is something that I definitely want to put out there.
EC:It's an important message for any industry, really.
EC:So..the artist community seems to be embracing you here in Austin.
BP:Mhmm.I feel like more a part of the arts community here than I did in Indianapolis. When I moved down here I expected people to be kind of guarded, like "Who's this guy coming into our city.." but it was the total opposite. Everybody's out to help everybody..and it's so contagious, because I want to help the next person.
You need to know of some place to contact for a show somewhere? I'll throw em' atcha. There's plenty around here. It's a tight knit community, and I think it just helps everybody.It doesn't seem as territorial..you're not stepping on anybody's feet..and so many people are up for collaborations and group shows..it's just awesome. It helps artists flourish, and feel ok with what they're doing with their lives.
EC:Do you think that the open-ness you experience here has affected your work?
BP:Oh yeah, absolutely. I didn't think my work would be affected by moving to TX, but it totally changed. Now I want to do cowboys and cowboy hats [ laughs ] ... but again, it fits the aesthetic that I've always gone for..
The salvaged wood, and the feel of an old abandoned house you might stumble across when you're walkin' around, so..um..I think it's a good fit, but it wasn't planned. You are influenced by your surroundings.
EC:What was your work like in IN?
BP:It was more..portraits..and when I say portraits, I mean like ..nobody in particular. I just mean faces. I've always drawn faces.
EC:like this? [ pointing to..]
BP:Yeah. This kind of stuff. And I probably always will do those kinds of faces, just because ..I don't know, it's something that I feel needs to come out. So a lot of that, and a lot of jazz ..y'know trumpets and trumpet players..but that's when I was going through my discovery of jazz, and it really influenced me then. Then I started doing woodcut pieces with different colors ..and it just evolved into me realizing that I wanted the wood to do a lot of the work.
|"Winter is Coming"|
BP:For the color, and for the...rough look. Then I'd do some painting over top of it if I feel like it needs more..but um..
EC: I really love that one [ pointing to ]..
EC:Sorry to interrupt.
BP:Oh thank you. It's been around..I've shown it quite a bit. I think the price point's a little high for it..
EC:I would charge a lot for it, too.
BP:[ laughing ] Thanks.
But I think I came into my own in IN. I just blossomed even more when I moved down here. I was a full time artist for 2 years, too, so it gave me a lot of time to just do that. In IN, I was only full time for maybe.. 3 months of that 2 years.
So taking the jump and hustlin' your wares for 2 years is a huge step for anybody.
EC:I think some people reading this would like to know.. what is a full time artist? What does it take, or how has your experience been? Because that's something seemingly unattainable to most artists..
BP:Yeah. I worked for this guy for way too long...7 years. We didn't like each other. It was a paycheck. I got paid ok, but I just got to the point where I couldn't do it anymore.
Then I took a job to get away from that job..at less than half of what I was making before, and then I realized I could probably make about the same amount of money just by selling..if I had the time to make the work. Then I did.
I decided to try it full time while we were selling the house in IN, and I would just paint down here while I was looking for a job..and then when I got down here, I had my first show at Revival Cycles during EAST. It was the best selling show I'd ever had..so that money kind of made me think I could get by until I found a job...and stuff just kept selling.
Trust me, you have to cut out a lot of stuff. Without that steady paycheck coming in, you have ebbs and flows of money ..and sometimes you're like, "Oh shit, I really need to hustle and get my work out in front of people, cuz it's not making any money sitting at my house." Then you have to spend a whole day e-mailing. And you have to spend the next day creating..and then that night emailing people back if you're lucky enough to get a reply.
It's just a const--I tell people it's a constant hustle. But to be honest with you, it's been a great 2 years. Now I'm working part time at my friend's screen-printing shop, KONG Screen printing, on Cesar Chavez...and I like having a steady paycheck and still having time to create and get my work out there. I think it's actually a good balance. I like not hustling constantly. It's a lot of stress, and the toughest part is hitting that streak of not selling anything. You're wondering, "what am I doing differently?" And you're not doing anything differently. It just happens..it happens to everybody. Then you start selling again, and you can breathe..and then it happens again, and just..yeah.
You learn a lot about yourself, and you learn a lot about how little you can get by with if you really need to.
I was just fed up working for someone who didn't respect me, and I didn't respect them back because of that. So ..I would recommend for people not to stick around in those environments.
EC:Yeah, it's toxic.
BP:It's very toxic.
EC:What's with all these little phrases around here? And Texas..I see Texas around.
BP:Um.. well my fiancee' Cynthia is from Texas. I met her when she lived in Chicago..
EC:That's where we just moved from.
BP:Oh really..what part?
EC:We lived in Ukrainian Village.
BP:Ok, yeah, I have a friend who lived over there. I thought he called it Old Chicago or something..
BP:Yeah Old town. And then um..she..I forget where she lived. She would kill me ...I can't believe..
BP:That's it, Logan square. I was gonna say..there's a California stop..
EC:[ laughs ] yeah, yeah.
BP:She lived right across the street from it..it was so fuckin' loud.
But we started dating, and did the long distance thing for a while...and the way she would talk about Texas ...she was so proud of it. She would say, "Texas is a very proud state." And then we moved down here..and she's totally right. That's why they call it "the great state of Texas" ..it's such an iconic shape as well..
I had the idea to do the woodcut, and then..I realized I could use even smaller scraps of wood that I would normally throw away..so it helps me get rid of even more. Plus people love Texas. I love texas now that I live here. I get it . You don't get it until you live here, or you come here..
So basically the Texas thing is just that. It's iconic, it's a proud state..and y'know.. everything about Texas is pride. Texas forever. The great state of Texas.
|"Lonestar State no.1"|
|"If These Walls Could Talk"|
BP: Some of the other phrases like the "Howdy" and "Yeehaw"..that's just fun. I want to create stuff that people walk up to and engage with ..and you're not gonna get everybody to do it, but as long as it brings smiles to some people's faces.
I want people to want to wake up to that piece everyday and smile. So I have some others in the works that are a little bit more humorous...like, "darn-tootin".
I just did a board for the 50 artists for 50 decks project ..and I painted "giddy up" on the bottom of the deck.
I'm always trying to be clever without being..without being too..not cheesy..I don't care about being cheesy..I don't want to be too uh..
EC:I think I know what you mean.
BP:Like I don't want to put "hashtag Giddyup".
BP:I want it to be timeless. I don't want it to be a fad thing that's not gonna make any sense in 10 years.
Check out more of Brian's work at his WEBSITE.
Brian will be participating in this year's EAST Austin Studio Tour. ( #49.1 Brian L. Phillips, Guest of Revival Cycles )