The calm before the snow is what Friday night felt like in downtown SLC. While many a Sundance moviegoer was chilling out in front of the Broadway Centre, others were making our way around Salt Lake Gallery Stroll while we had a somewhat warm winter evening. This month I made my way over to Phillips Gallery
on 2nd South, where Deborah Hake Brinckerhoff was the primary focus in the main gallery, along with the sculptures of Dan Toone. Today we chat with Brinckerhoff about her career and artwork, along with pictures of the exhibit you can see for the next month at Phillips.
Deborah Hale Brinckerhoff
Gavin: Hey Deborah! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in a small town in rural Vermont. Growing up, I had a tiny bedroom facing north, and I spent a great deal of time in that room drawing and painting. I experimented with many different materials—leads, graphite, charcoal, colored pencils, as well as watercolor and pastels. I had a massive crush on Clint Eastwood, and he was my favorite subject to plaster all over my angsty teenage walls! More serious contemplation was spent at the Hood Museum in Hanover, N.H., where I fell in love with modern art—Rothko, Giacometti, Picasso, etc. I also had a magnificent high school art teacher who encouraged me to take classes at Dartmouth College, where I was introduced to the basics of painting, including stretching my own canvases, gessoing
and acrylic paint. That connection led to a wonderful summer art intensive at Wesleyan. There, I learned about The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD).
What specifically drew you to painting, and what made you choose to work primarily with oils?
I don’t feel like there was ever a choice. For me, it was always painting. Though our freshman year wasn’t spent painting—it was spent the year in “freshman foundation.” I loved it and excelled. Being there felt like home. My whole world opened up as I was constantly challenged, inspired and in awe of all the possibilities.
You received your degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. What made you choose their program and how was your time there?
Though my grandmother went to Pratt, I was encouraged by one of the professors at Wesleyan to apply to RISD. I applied to three schools; RISD was the only art school. My time there was (mostly) incredible. Sophomore year was when we declared our major and moved into that department. I went into the ”Department of Painting.” Others went into the “Department of Architecture,” or “D. of Industrial Design, “D. of Illustration”, etc. We were also responsible for a liberal arts requirements that could be taken at Brown, our neighbor school. My painting instructor was a brilliant hard-core abstract painter and a genius with oil. I discovered that I was not a genius; oil was a completely different language than I was accustomed to, and I struggled. My ego hit a wall. However, with time and practice, I began to understand my new medium.
What other genres did you explore and hone your craft in?
The figure and human anatomy, color, portraiture, ceramics, glass, sculpture, apparel,
What eventually brought you out to Utah and what made you decide to stay?
My husband grew up in Utah. We moved here from Seattle when he decided to get his Ph.D. in psychology.
Where do you find inspiration for the kind of art you create?
It’s only in looking back over all the years and places we’ve lived, that I can begin to notice a thread that connects to the way I paint. I notice and collect snapshot images of spaces and figures, objects, etc. The images do all the work; they seem to have a life of their own, a kind of magic and beauty that stands out, making it easy to notice/paint.
What's the process like for you when creating a new piece?
Some days I show up to work with an idea that I dreamed about or caught a glimpse of; other days I begin marking my canvas and see where it might lead. And, I read—everything.
Do you usually stick with what you've intended to create, or do you improvise a bit as you work?
Every painting is different, some paintings seem to paint themselves—I feel like I have very little to do with it/them. Others can take weeks and months before they feel done, or they never “get done.” They get scraped, painted over, torn to bits etc.
Tell us about the works you'll have on display this Stroll.
Figures, an abstract, faces, ravens, etc. I let the paintings dictate (to) me. And because I follow my interests, my work is usually a jumble of many different things. My style also seems to change. When I was pregnant, I painted very differently than I had before or since. I’ve had comments at shows where viewers were certain that “the work was made by several different people.” I’ve also been told that my style is very “consistent, and regardless of the subject painted, they know it’s my work.” What I can be clear about is that it's subjective. I have to trust my instincts and paint for myself. If I’m painting to sell, or to “please others,” the work suffers. And, sometimes the work does “just suffer.” I make a lot of bad paintings, it's all part of the process. Every time I start, I have to be prepared to “fail.”
What's your take on the local art scene as of late?
Like most cities, i'ts varied. My overall opinion is that it’s fairly conservative. I’d like to see more risks being taken. In turn, possibly giving viewers a greater opportunity to sink their teeth into something that might have a little bite.
Who are some other local artists' work you've been enjoying?
I enjoy so many different kinds of work, and know many different artists that I admire—it would be impossible for me to say.
What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
That is a good question. We’ll just have to see, won’t we!