Now Featuring Brian Willmont

Brooklyn painter Brian Willmont is all over the place, making paintings that leap through history and geography at the speed of imagination.  His Portals series for LPP appears quiet and contemplative, but when seen in the context of the rest of his omnivorous, energetic work, the empty openings become laden with possibility, and seem like they could lead not just to another space, but to another time.

To view the collection of limited edition prints in the LPP store: Go here

Exclusive Print 1

Exclusive Print 2

Exclusive Print 3

Exclusive Print 4

Exclusive Print 5

MH: If I’m reading your chronology correctly, your work is becoming more and more abstract in terms of representation.  Can you talk about that evolution, or correct me if it’s not a shift, and just a spectrum of ways you work?

BW: I’ve always thought of my work in formal terms and have worked abstractly before, but I haven’t gone as deep into the exploration previously and I’ve never shown that work.

Home Assault

Feudal Echo

MH: A lot of “iconic” characters march, quite literally, though some of your painting: soldiers, cowboys.  Who are they?  Also, how does history fold in on itself in your work, as when a WWII era plane seems to land in a spaghetti western landscape?

BW: These characters are archetypes from our history, they are generally no one specific, and if they are I hope they don’t read as such but as a stand-in for the idea of the person.  In much of my narrative work, U.S. histories are conflated and collapsed on one another to the point where the paintings become their own accounts.  I’m never talking about specific histories and therefore the boundaries shouldn’t be clear.

Hunker Down

MH: Bold move putting sunglasses and a cowboy hat on a watercolor painting of a cactus.  That sounds sarcastic but it isn’t… when I saw it, early in browsing through your work, I thought “What? Oh no, I just can’t,” and closed my browser. Then I looked more and I see where it fits with everything else and I really like it, and like you more for unearthing some gesture of kitsch that still had the power to give me pause for a second.  I’m not sure how this is a question, maybe I’m curious about how humor and the macabre are related for you, and why you work in the greatest but also kitschiest of all media, watercolor.

BW: I love that reaction.  I like to live dangerously.  A lot of my work rides precariously close to kitsch and decoration, places where you aren’t supposed to go.  I have enough cynicism matched with sincerity to hopefully pull it off.  I find humor in dumbness; I don’t know if other people find the same things funny, but I laugh at my own jokes.  I think watercolor (gouache actually, but used like watercolor) let people drop their guard. It’s not a serious medium, its for Sunday Painters and hobbyists.  I can play with violence and aggression while simultaneously de-fanging it through the medium.

Abyss series

Abyss series

MH: Can you talk about the reduction of the Portals and Voids series?  It seems like all the interest is in the edge of the image, like Derrida’s frame, and the issue of the border, or what’s inside and what’s outside, is doubly interesting for an image of a giant unknowable, encompassing nothing, as a void or portal would be.  How did you get interested in edges, and in empty things?  So many of your other images are quite full, and seem infinite, like the page could extend forever.

BW: Right, painting is often talked about as a window, in the past I thought of my images more as a photograph of an invented world, just one possible framing of something in existence.  These new paintings mostly have borders or frames painted along the edges to reinforce their existence as paintings and their confines as such.  Instead of a window, I think of these as a door or gateway- portals.  The borders say “look into me.” These are meditative pieces that have a gravity pulling inward.  I think this is my reaction towards living in New York, creating my own quiet place.

Unfamiliar Territories

MH: Speaking of pages, you’re active in publishing with Apenest.  What is that project?  And we’re also very excited at LPP to be working on a book with you.  What are your plans for that?

BW: Apenest is a project I work on with Cody Hoyt.  We’ve published a few books and worked with many talented artists whom I am grateful to.  We are beginning to work on some print editions of our own that I’m really excited about.

I’m stoked on the LPP book!  It’s going to feature much of my abstract work as well as work form my recent two month residency in Santa Fe, NM.  It will look polished with an embossed cover yet also include hand made additions be more of an “artist’s book.”

Flag Wrap

MH: Who are some of the artists you look at and admire? And how to you research the archetypes for your paintings?

BW: You know those discount war and American history books outside of Borders?  I have a big stack of those and various history books from the ‘70s that I mine for ideas.

MH: Where do you think your interest in boundaries, and collapsed boundaries (as in the paintings where history sort of folds in on itself) comes from?  And in that vein, can you talk about the relationship between your paintings and your sculptural work, which seems to be like your paintings coming to life, but losing none of their papery, hand-drawn nature.

BW: We live in a world of rules and boundaries, real, imagined and prescribed.  In the portal work I’m emphasizing existing rules to my advantage.   In the narrative work I am conflating histories to talk about contemporary issues in a historical context.  I don’t like my art to be too specific, I hope for it to have several layers of meaning.

When I started making sculpture, I wanted to create an environment where the frame of your vision would be the boundaries of the work, which changes as you move through space.  When I have sculpture with painting I want it to become an installation rather than sculpture with a painting.  Also playing with 2d vs. 3d is a plays with the real vs. the imaginary themes I work with.

MH: Finally, where do you see your portals going? (I guess that question can be taken two ways…) What’s next for you in the studio?  Anything you’re dying to try but can’t find the time/resources/nerve to start on?

BW: The portals are like mirrors into your mind.  Or like looking out into the ocean at night.  I’m not sure what’s next for them, though, I’ve been jumping around between bodies of work.  I’m working on modular works that are hung in groups of varying size depending on space, one of these is up in a show ‘Patterns of Behavior’ at Booklyn in Brooklyn.  I’m working on tie-dye influenced drawings and just started a series based on wall paintings from Pompeii.  I have too many ideas and maybe ADD.  I haven’t started but I’m making my first outdoor project for the DUMBO arts festival this fall.   I’d really like to do a super epic installation in a huuuge space, it already exists in my mind but logistics are a constraint!

1 comment

1 Susi PerryNo Gravatar { 07.05.12 at 5:26 pm }

It is wonderful to follow the journey of Brian’s artwork. I still love the colors and thought-provoking themes of your watercolors.

Congratulations on your continued successes!

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