Featured Artist: Andrew Brehm

The Family

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1. What aspects of THE contemporary art WORLD would you change, if you could?

There are many “art worlds” out there, more important than changing one might be to find which one works best for you. Just a few years ago I was working vigorously in the field of furniture making. I would go to the conferences, read the magazines and listen intently to the bearded sages in the various shops where I worked. Most importantly, I was making furniture of my own then, and from time to time I would enter it into competitions. The exhibition of my furniture is what introduced me to the fine arts. Most of what I made had buttons and hidden compartments and I would often do these demonstrations at the openings to explain how each piece worked. Sometimes I would get dressed up in costumes that matched the furniture or were thematically related. Friends of mine from the dance community came to one of these openings and were all like “whoa, you do know you’re a performance artist, right?” and I was all like “whaaaa”? And that’s when I looked around and realized my works were being curated into a sculpture shows and that I was not really being embraced by the furniture community any longer, so I jumped-ship to sculpture, a field I knew almost nothing about. Since then I have received my MFA from a sculpture program and have done a bit of exhibiting. And if the field of sculpture should ever slight me I will feel fine slipping into film, or cake making or whoever else has vacancies. What’s most important is that my work finds its way into some community of other makers who can be both supportive and critical.

The Crescent Club

2. What does it mean to you to be an artist living and working in Sarasota, FL?

I have always found that the best artwork seems to come from colder places. Making works of beauty is a necessary part of life in chilly bleak settings; it helps to balance things out. Sarasota is beautiful and warm, and creating physical or conceptual beauty can prove difficult because it feels so redundant. The painter complains to the patron “why do you want me to paint a picture of a palm tree? Just look out your window, past your mango grove and past that lady’s breasts and look at your own queen palm growing right there, no, your looking at the wrong one, the other one over there, it’s the better cause its got the sun setting behind it.”

Women

Sarasota harbors some pretty ferocious nature; rarely does artistic reproduction do it justice. Artists who have chosen to live here have passed on cities like LA, New York and even nearby Miami. Short of replicating those cities here, Sarasota’s artistic output will always lag behind those giants. However, I promise it is far more exciting to sweat it out here then join the ranks elsewhere, Florida has this great natural aggression. The waves that humping the sand, the rousingly tart citrus, the bloom bloom bloom of pink petals everywhere, hurricanes, the sun and everything to do with fishing. To be an artist in Sarasota means you are faced daily with these potent natural forces. They cannot be contained, or bested, so we must join in their dance, becoming the artistic equivalents of a gushing crystal spring.

Florida Arm

3. How do you see the societal role of the artist evolving?

The pen is mightier than the sword,
The CEO owns the pen company,
The artists slaughter each other with swords trying to sell their
paintings to the CEO,
The winning painting hangs in the pen company lobby.

Fish

My dad worked for a little while in a can factory a few years before I was born. When he tells me this I’m not sure if he means making cans or filling cans with something. It is probably the former otherwise I guess he would have said “canning factory.” In any case, he had a very straightforward occupation. If he were to meet an artist at the Elks Club, following a shift of can-making, I’m sure they could described their very different daily routines. My father may have even envied the exotic and stimulating profession of that artist. But there are many more artists today then ever before, and most of the oppressive industrial jobs of the past have taken their factories elsewhere. Many of today’s occupations are highly creative, and business models are dynamic and must remain that way in order to stay competitive. If I sat down with a product designer I would likely be jealous of the projects she is working on. For instance:

Fish Eye

Last week, at the Lions Club, she explained how she has been freelancing for a company that grafts used football equipment onto the backs of heavily scarred manatees. Already the researchers have seen an increase in overall manatee durability. She asked me to imagine for myself a bloated version of the Miami Dolphin’s logo. Her job was to design uniforms for each manatee that related to those seen in pro football. This way when the sea cows congregated it looked like an NFL pickup game.

Portal

Needless to say I was completely embarrassed. I took my French beret off my head and tucked my easel under my seat. This woman’s creativity and societal impact makes my duck paintings seem like doo doo. I believe it will be people who remain flexible and those who take on multiple titles who will be most successful. Some artists who have merged with industry are making more of a societal splash than during their years exhibiting in galleries. It is the age of the interdisciplinary hero and the creatives are most suited for that role.

Bacchaus

4. One of the most complicated aspects of being an art maker is the “Life Work” balance: making important decisions on when to start and when to stop and where to separate things. Do you have any advice for other artists, based on your own methodology, on how to balance a life’s work?

This is something I think about almost every day and my opinion changes frequently. As a general rule I think that blending “life” and “work” bears the most fruit. If I speak at length about this subject I begin to sound like a high school wrestling coach who has taken to whipping passersby with his “angry towel”. I’ll try to keep it brief. One of the great disadvantages of well-budgeted studio practice is how precious those oh-so-few studio hours become. This often leads to conservative decision-making. For me, a conservative decision is one that I have not investigated enough to truly call my own, and instead it looks a little like something I have already seen, a “package move.” In this instance I would much prefer a deeper investment that flows into all compartments of my routine. Spending your days and nights hammering away at a stubborn artwork. Rock stars, chefs and drug addicts do this gracefully and without hesitation, these people have no off switch. Unfortunately, a focused, one-track lifestyle, such as I’m describing, is not sustainable and rarely lucrative. So when I wake up from a three-week art stupor, I feel like I’m living in a country song. I pick up the phone call my girlfriend and then my dog, begging them to return home, next I’ll try to convince the utility company to turn our water back on. The fact is that when I am not creating things, I am losing touch with myself, I’m falling out of conversation with the part of me that I find most valuable. Art making has this surprising amount of justice to it. Professionally, you usually end up where you secretly wanted to be, high or low, in or out. If making artwork is a top priority of yours, you will find the time required to make it.

Bacchaus Closeup

5. How important do you think authority is in contemporary art now?

Like the police? I hope they do not become an issue. The last thing we need is them meddling in our affairs.

For more information about Andrew Brehm, visit http://arts.vcu.edu/sculpture/portfolios/andrew-brehm/

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