Saturday, November 17, 2007

Art Space Talk: Brian Alfred

Brian Alfred lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He received his Masters of Fine Arts from Yale University in 1999. Since that time he has enjoyed solo exhibitions at the Mary Boone Gallery, Max Protetch Gallery, Sandroni Rey Gallery, SCAI the Bathhouse, and Haunch of Venison. Alfred's work has garnered many awards including a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award and a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant. His work is represented in many important collections including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum.

Spray by Brian Alfred

Brian Sherwin: Brian, it is my understanding that you were born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-- you now live in Brooklyn, New York. How did moving to Brooklyn influence your work? Would you say that your experiences in Brooklyn have helped your work to mature?

Brian Alfred: I imagine growing up in Pittsburgh has had an effect on my work more so than anywhere else. There’s a certain feel and aesthetic to Pittsburgh that I think comes through my work subconsciously. I travel a lot and I think that also has a big influence on my work.

BS: Brian, you obtained a BFA from Pennsylvania State University and an MFA from Yale University. Can you tell us about your academic years? Who were your instructors at that time? How did the art departments influence you during those early years?

BA: For me, school was a great opportunity to work out idea after idea without worry of failure. At Penn State my teachers who really impacted me were Robert Yarber, Helen O’Leary and Julie Heffernan. At Yale, Mel Bochner, Rochelle Feinstein and a long list of great visiting artists were very valuable in the studio. I tried to really utilize every moment and every resource to develop my work and really immerse myself in all aspects of art making.
Surveillance Plane by Brian Alfred

BS: Brian, you are represented by the Mary Boone Gallery. How long have been represented there? Are you represented by any other galleries?

BA: I have been at Mary Boone for a couple years now. I am also represented by Haunch of Venison London/Zurich/Berlin, Studio La Citta in Verona, and SCAI the Bathhouse in Tokyo.

BS: Brian, you have accomplished a lot in recent years. You were awarded a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2003, a Joan Mitchell Foundation Award in 2006-- and during that same time frame you were reviewed by major publications like Art in America and the New York times-- your work can be found in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Whitney Museum of American Art. What would you say contributes to your success?

BA: I hope that any success that I have had comes from my work connecting with people and the way they look at our world. I feel like I have been given opportunities that have helped me continue to work hard and share my ideas with a lot of people, and that’s really all I could ask for.
Matsumoto by Brian Alfred

BS: Brian, let us talk about your art. Your work often involves banal, urban structures and spaces. However, you also create portraits-- I really enjoyed viewing Tanaka and Matsumoto. How are the portraits connected to you more dominate work? Should your work be seen as a whole?

BA: I have painted landscapes for many years. I really think of these spaces as descriptions of who we are as people by what we create and what surrounds us. Recently I started a project of painting portraits of people who have been in my mind over the years in the studio. I paint paintings, make paper collages, make sculpture/installations and animations. I see all my work as one whole. To me, the differences between two images or the differences in the way they are created is as much of the content as the image itself.
Tanaka by Brian Alfred

BS: How do you decide upon your next venture? Do you keep a journal-- sketchbook? Do ideas pop into your mind, so to speak? When you are running the errands of your daily life do you 'see' future pieces before you? In other words, is a walk down the street just a walk down the street... or do you gain new ideas with with each passing block? Give us some insight into how your mind works.

BA: I usually get ideas as I am working. I think all the things I see when I am traveling or out and about get stored in my mind and as I am working on things in the studio, they just seem to come out. I am definitely not one who sits and waits for the idea to come to me. I need to create and ideas come from working through things. I think my journal is my laptop. I make most of my drawings on it.

BS: Brian, can you go into further detail about the philosophy behind your work? I've read that you are influenced by the Utopian sensibilities of avant-garde early-Modernists like Wassily Kandinsky, is that so? Can you describe that connection?

BA: I really like to think of my work as being influenced by everything. My work could be about anything from the beauty of a tree to the chaos of an earthquake to utopic ideals to conspiracy theories to meteor showers to corporate life, etc, etc…It’s basically all about our world.
Double Rainbow by Brian Alfred
BS: What other artists or art movements have inspired you? Is it important for your work to have a connection to pivotal points in art history or are you more interested in the 'now', so to speak? In other words, is the study of past artists a crucial part of your research or do you feel that the experiences of present day are more vital to what you are conveying within context of your art?

BA: I have a love for history and art history and the impact that the past has had on our work today. That said, I agree that art has to be of one’s own time, and I hope that my work connects with our world today in an unconscious and meaningful way. As far as movements, I have affinities for Pop Art, Constructivism, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, Propaganda Art, but nothing comes close to the love I have for Ukiyo-e. There’s something about those images that connect with me that no other work does.
Larry Young by Brian Alfred

BS: Speaking of the future, I've read that you are preparing for a solo show titled 'Millions Now Living Will Never Die'. Can you tell us about your plans for the exhibit? Where will it be held? Will you be exhibiting new work?

BA: ‘Millions’ will open in January at Haunch of Venison Berlin. I have been working on the work for this show for almost three years. It’s the longest I have ever worked on one show. It will consist of 333 painted portraits of people who have been in my head in my studio over the years. There will also be 33 paper collage portraits, a group of animated portraits, an installation of ‘book portraits’ and a group of ‘protest paintings.’ It’s really about all these people who have an impact on you or who influence you and it never directly comes out in your work aesthetically. People tend to think the only people who must impact you as an artist are those who create work that looks very similar to your own. This project attempts to blow that out of the water.
A self-portrait by Brian Alfred

BS: Do you have any other exhibits planned for 2008? Can you give us details?

BA: I have a group show about landscape at the Shizuoka Museum of Art in Japan and a group show about mapping and cartography at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

BS: Brian, do you have any advice for art students-- any survival tips?

BA: Work hard. My motto has always been work, work work. If your not 150% into what you are doing, there’s not much chance other people will be.
BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

BA: I hope it makes you think.
You can learn more about Brian Alfred by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

Brian, this is very unique work. It is always a challenge to find new ways to portray people (figuration) in a visual context. Though I see a little Alex Katz, I think you have found a way.
Regards, Alan Soffer said...

Your work is wonderful and it is so very refreshing to see, at long last, fine portraits of Asians and Black men and a talent like yours is what should be in the forefront, in the spotlight of awards and presentations in our country that insists on rewarding and presenting, in many instances, artists who take the low road, pull the race card, or are just jerks in general, whether male or female. You are in your way, clearly, in a category by yourself, as far as I can see and I have seen quite a bit. Congratulations to you Brian, and though it must have cost you a bundle to do your Masters at Yale, it cerainly was worth it! :) Your inteview was enlightening and kudos to the Art Space people too for finding you and bringing your work to everyone. I think you're great!

Warm regards,

Anonymous said...

in all fairness, there is absolutely nothing new or different about this work...same ol', same ol'....