Today, I chat with Greenwell about his career and style of artwork, branching out into the scene and being a part of an art collective, thoughts on local art and a few other topics. (All photos courtesy of Brad Greenwell.)
Gavin: Hello, Brad. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Brad: I’m originally from Lafayette, Indiana. As a teen in a conservative town, I would get hassled for my long red hair and “bad” attitude. Though what I really craved was fame; God, I wanted fame. So, I took a bus to Los Angeles, hooked up with a young guitarist named Saul Hudson, started a rock band and made obscene amounts of money. Later, I became burned out on the rockstar gig – dating supermodels, having people cater to your every whim, etc. – so I decided to donate my fortunes to securing freedom for Tibet and I moved to Utah to focus on painting.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in art, and what were some early inspirations for you?
Brad: I’ve always drawn. As a child, I would constantly copy characters out of my comic books. Even up through my teenage years, I was pursuing comic illustration. I then came across a Salvador Dali book. Up to that point, I really had no concept of “art.” Of people painting on a canvas and there being an audience for it, I had just never thought about it nor been exposed to it. I bought the book and was completely changed.
Gavin: What made you decide to go the self-taught route early on rather than seek professional training or education?
Brad: It was more of a non-decision. It’s just how it played out. Painting, for me, is a solitary experience. I’m working through things on the canvas that are extremely personal. I think I felt uncomfortable letting anyone in on that -- teacher, professional mentor, whoever.
Gavin: What was it like for you learning how to pain,t and were there any particular styles you emulated or focused on to hone your craft?
Brad: The first couple of years were easy and super-fun. It was probably around the third year I began to have a creeping suspicion that I had no idea what I was doing. That’s when it becomes a passion. You become focused on learning and advancing your craft. You see everything differently. You start breaking down other paintings, deconstructing them: brush strokes, composition, hard/soft edges, color – what works and what doesn’t. You start thinking in terms of warm/cools and how they play off each other. I tried to take in as much as I could, but I was mostly drawn to realism with high light/shadow contrast – Rembrandt, Vermeer, Caravaggio, etc.
Gavin: During that period, what made you focus on items of pop culture and somewhat deconstructionist pieces?
Brad: I enjoy taking symbols and draining them of meaning – making them purely aesthetic. We believe our methods of communication to be solid and immutable – referencing an objective. I like to scramble codes and ask, “What, exactly, is this 'objectivity' you speak of?” I try to break the rational mind. It’s interesting, to me you create art and experience art for the same reason that you would practice meditation or smoke a joint and that is to lose yourself completely in the moment. Unfortunately, a lot of art being produced today is intellectual masturbation. If that’s your thing, that’s fine. But when you stand in front of a Van Gogh, you are not rationalizing it, you are feeling it. It goes right through you and absorbs you. I’m not as talented as Van Gogh so I try another approach.
Gavin: Over time, you grew to become a popular artist around Utah and branched out beyond the state. What made you choose to start doing shows around the U.S. and up into Canada, and what have those experiences been like for you?
Brad: It actually happened in the reverse order. My first shows were all out-of-state. Between ’05–’07, I entered as many group/juried shows as possible, kept up with galleries and constantly sent submissions out. I really pushed it. In a span of 14 months, I had three solo shows in Portland, Park City and San Diego. I was also constantly sending work out to group shows. I met some great people and sold the majority of my work, but by ’08 I was done. It had been a huge drain of time, money and energy. I was trying to force a career out of my art and was unhappy. I decided to hole up in my home studio and paint simply because it is what I love to do. I didn’t poke my head out again until this past year.
Gavin: What's the process like for you when creating a new series of works? Do you formulate a theme prior or does it come as you're just creating and going along?
Brad: I structured and focused on my current series -- a painting within a painting with a still life setup -- about a year and a half ago. As soon as I painted that first one, I knew that was it. It works perfectly for me, as the still life setup plays to my strengths ----
-- realism -- while the painting within the painting allows me to indulge my appetite for experimentation. I can do absolutely anything I want in the little painting and the overall painting is still always recognizable as mine.
Gavin: Considering some of the works you have, do you play with your concepts a lot or do you tend to stick with an idea from the original once you think it up?
Brad: The still life portion is concrete. I take a lot of time setting up different objects to get a certain look, but once I have decided on a setup, I paint it as close as I can to what I see. The painting within the painting is a big variable. Sometimes it stays close to my preparatory sketches, sometimes it varies quite a bit, sometimes I just get to it with only a vague idea in my head. The only hard rule with the painting within the painting is that it has to work with the still life. I try to give it its own presence, mostly by making the colors a little more hot and the key a little higher, as opposed to the more subtlety rendered still life, but the overall painting still has to feel uniform in tone and appearance. What’s interesting about oil paint is that it is its own master. It never turns out exactly how you planned. I think the trick to painting is to allow that variance and make the best of it as opposed to driving yourself mad trying to make the paint conform to your idea.
Gavin: How did you come across the studio space at Poor Yorick, and what made you decide to move in?
Brad: I’d been attending their open studio event for years; it is always such an amazing evening. The home-studio thing had run its course. We have three little boys and a small home, so the space was needed elsewhere. Mostly, though, I was tired of three years of tossing my paintings aside. I started to feel the urge again to share my work. It’s really a crucial part of the creative cycle. However, I did not want to go after galleries again. So, Poor Yorick seemed like the place to be. Brad Slaugh is such an incredible guy; it’s awesome to be a part of what he is doing.
Gavin: What made you decide to go through the Meyer Gallery for representation, and how has it been working with them to sell your artwork?
Brad: They are a reputable and established gallery with really great people, and it was close to home so no shipping paintings. It’s a brand-new relationship; we’ll see how it goes.
Gavin: Very recently, you had one of your pieces, “Homer's Odyssey,” bought by Salt Lake County for its permanent collection. What's your reaction as an artist when a corporation or museum or entity of any kind comes along and wants to add your work to its collections? Is there any prestige to it, or do you view it as just another client?
Brad: I was actually quite stunned. It is a very cool thing. To be a part of Utah history, I’m very proud.
Gavin: What are some of your current collections you have on display, and what are you working on at the moment?
Brad: I’ve recently had a few invites to participate in shows out of state, but I passed. For now, the Poor Yorick open-studio event every March and September, combined with some paintings here and there at Meyer Gallery, is perfect. Maybe a couple of years down the road when all my boys are in school, I’ll have the time, and motivation, to get my work out there on a larger scale.
Gavin: Moving on to local art, what are your thoughts on our art scene, both good and bad?
Brad: We are fortunate to have some really incredible artists here locally, people who are passionate about their craft and take it in some unique directions. I also think some really great venues outside of commercial gallery spaces have been created for artists to show their work.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make things more prominent?
Brad: Artists should stand outside of the gallery where they’re exhibiting their work, busting out their best dance moves and playing a cardboard guitar.
Gavin: What's your opinion on Gallery Stroll these days and the work it does to promote the local art scene?
Brad: It’s honestly a rare occasion when I get out to the Gallery Stroll. I get far more excited about open-studio events – Poor Yorick, the Guthrie and Captain Captain when they open up, as opposed to a commercial gallery show. I find it more interesting to experience the unfiltered ideas of an artist, as opposed to what a gallery believes will sell.
Gavin: While we're on the topic, how do you feel about the galleries we have in Utah right now and the exhibitions they've been highlighting recently?
Brad: The galleries we have in Utah are a reflection of the audience they serve. A lot of it isn’t my mug of coffee but it’s all good. That being said, a couple of shows did pull me out of the house this past year: John Erickson and Joe Carter – both at Phillips, both amazing. A bit off subject, but be sure to check out the Murakami/Warhol show down at the BYU Museum of Fine Arts.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Brad: I’ll be in the studio painting as much as I can until probably mid November. Then during the holiday months, my artistic output will slow way down as I binge on food, drink and family activities. The New Year will bring the peak of consumption, followed by a short period of remorse, then resolve. I’ll pay for a gym membership that I will lose interest in approximately three days later, and then it’s back to the studio to continue painting.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Brad: Local Art. Support it, believe in it, buy it. That floral print you buy at IKEA will lose any meaning it had immediately after purchase, but when you buy work from a local artisan, you are not only purchasing a one-of-a-kind piece, you are supporting and participating in an individual’s unique and personal vision of beauty and awareness. It might possibly end up matching your couch, as well.
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