Thursday, December 13, 2007

Art Space Talk: John Breiner

John Breiner started out painting graffiti murals in and around New York City. He eventually ended up at the School of Visual Arts where he was instructed by Bruce Waldman-- a Director of The New York Society of Etchers. John went from telling stories visually on the streets to giving new life to discarded books and other surfaces that he found along those same paths. In a sense, John's past, present, and future is represented in his choice of utilizing found objects within the context of his work. John continues to tell stories-- he just does it on his own terms.

Brian Sherwin: John, can you tell us about your early years. I understand that your grandmother did the coloring for the Duck Tails series of comic books, was she an influence on you? Also, in 1994 you viewed graffiti for the first time... why did it make such an impact on you?

John Breiner: Well growing up I was a creative kid. I was an only child and I always remember drawing. I remember my Dad drawing a cannon, showing me how to make the illusion of depth on paper. I remember my grandmother at her drawing desk, and the clear plastic comic cells. I remember my mom painting her ceramic statues. All of them were an influence on me when I was really young. Also through growing up with my friends in NY in the 80’s and 90’s. There was always something. Drawing comics, Sk8 boarding, making t-shirts and stickers for our Skate crew, massive neighborhood snowball fights and as I got older, music, DJ’ing, making tapes, and of course Hip-hop and Graffiti.

Graffiti had a huge impact on me, I don’t know why? It was just the right sequence of events. I still remember reading the source magazine and seeing pics of the subway for the 1st time. I was blown away. I never knew anything about it. Then I started noticing the highways from the backseat of my parents car, they were killed back then.. and it was just so amazing to me...

BS: John, tell us about the work you have done on the streets. I've known a few street artists who mention that they get a rush not only from what they are creating, but from the fact that at times it can be a risk to work in that manner. Those I've spoken with mention that it is hard for them to capture that same energy in their studio-- the four walls seem to keep that vibe in check, so to speak. Have you experienced that? Or are you able to channel that surge no matter where or how you are creating?

JB: Well I’ve been writing Graffiti since 1994. Tags, Pieces, Throw-ups. To be honest the best rush to me is riding that train home, hitting the bed. Waking up the next morning, going and getting the picture then moving on. There’s no formal critiques, worrying if its going sell, its just fun, its exhilarating and freeing, but it can get you locked up. Sometimes life can be that way.

It’s still my lifestyle but I tend to be more careful and strive for longevity. Part of that was moving into another type of art. I had to find something that I was comfortable making money off of. So the transition into "Studio" type work came about my 2nd or 3rd year in College and it was really, really difficult. Going from painting my name under a highway or whatever (in the dark) to painting a white canvas in doors, wasn’t easy, or even possible for me. It made very little sense to me, but it also made me into more of an artist though. I had to think more.

I started to realize things, like how I missed the layers from the walls. These walls were disgusting, but I loved them, they had a soul, and you felt like there was more of a reason to paint them. Eventually I discovered found surfaces that were around me were perfectly good for painting. Wood, metal, paper and eventually the books would result. That was how I got over the transition, by finding the hidden life in surfaces.

BS: Another issue that graffiti artists often experience is a form of paranoia that stems from what they do. Part of it, based on what I've been told, is due to the constant concern that someone might 'give you up' and the other concern involves a form of addiction to the streets-- as in they miss that raw energy, the sights and sounds of working into the night. Does any of this ring a bell?

JB: Oh of course, there’s some pretty unique experience’s I've had, the places I've seen and at the weirdest times of night. Normal people don’t see these things. I’m very grateful for that.. It’s a lifestyle, and I lead a very careful one. I’m a paranoid person in general I think, but being that way allows me to get away with most things I want to. I think it also gives me that feeling that if your doing some tags you’re always at least a little free.

BS: John, place us in the mind of a graffiti artists-- give us a psychological view of what a street artist feels when on the prowl for a space to claim for his or her own. Do you mind recalling some of your experiences?

JB: Umm.. shoot, I don’t know, its something that’s so ingrained,. I mean it’s a mixture of nerves, heightened senses, feeling sneaky, I guess feeling like your smarter then everyone, and then dumber when things go bad, and then smarter again when you get away, ha!. I don’t know?

I do know I miss being out there on a regular basis though. It’s sad, you don’t grow out of Graff, but you grow out of that window of carefree time you have to do it. It’s all about money though, and that’s really sad. If I had the money to get myself out of trouble, part of the fun is handling everything else that comes at you.

Experiences? Oh man, getting chased and split up in South America, with no idea where I was going, staying, or how to speak Spanish. Breaking my ankle. Having cops see us painting, stop, and then drive on for no apparent reason, all kinds, I’d prefer to stay away from specifics though.

BS: John, you've had formal training in art as well. Can you tell our readers where you studied, who your instructors were, and how that experience influenced you as an artist. Also, can you go into further detail about the conflict between the graffiti work of your past and the expectations of school? How did you mesh the two together?

JB: When I was a teenager I studied drawing with an Artist named Tommy Chin. Then I went to SVA here in the city. It was my first time being around artist so to speak. It was great, you know college, still being kind of care free, it was a fun time. I hooked up with a crew of really like minded artist’s there, We kick it, we do shows and individually we are all trying to beat art over the head these days. Peace to all of them..

There were also some great teachers there, Bruce Waldman, and the printmaking department, some of my painting teachers, and Tom Woodruff, provided a balance between doing what ever it is you feel, and making your art more intelligent. Some people knock art school like they think your going there to learn how to draw a line. Come on use your heads, Art school is damn near 98% paying to be around artists, point blank. They inspire you, you learn some history, you learn some new techniques but mainly your paying for 4 years of being placed in a creative environment. Where you take it from there is up to you.

It's not necessary for everyone, me I was at a cross-road in my life and future. My plan was to come to NYC to write Graff, but very soon after I realized that wasn’t so practical. So being there helped me develop what I'm doing today. As far as how my past art meshed with my current art, it was rocky at first, but once I figured out how to enjoy the art I make today, it was always separate and still is today. Graff is my hobby and history that I love and keep anonymous, and my other art is what I show to the world.

BS: I understand that you have strong opinions about the state of the art world. Can you discuss the issues you are concerned with and why you feel there needs to be change?

JB: Well I guess there’s always good a bad. In general things are cool. I’m pretty decent at networking, but it can get frustrating though. I’ve always been very do it yourself. I felt like me and my peoples weren’t getting the shine, so I curated, organized and threw a 30 plus person art show with music and film. We had over 600 people attend a one night show in Bushwick Brooklyn!! (And this was years before anyone lived there) The little old man that owned and lived above the bodega across the street came down in his robe and nightcap and opened the store. From his window above he saw the spectacle of the prime colt 45 target audience drinkers. Hundreds of them milling around in the street beer less!! He sold all his beer that night.

I’ve always been like that; it comes from taking spots, making art with out permission and getting tired of waiting. Waiting for people to catch on, catch up. Sometimes the establishment will catch on to actually interesting new talent, but it’s quite common to hear: I went to Chelsea, I saw one or 2 good things. How many galleries you go to? Twenty. I guess that’s just me being impatient, and to be fair there is a million artists (including myself) who if not already, will be knocking at their door. It would be nice to get paid from making what I want. I’m working on it...

BS: John, can you tell us more about your recent art? The motives behind-- the themes you are dealing with. Also, what can you see yourself exploring in the near future?

JB: Well I try to make work that’s a time warp, current ideas layered on old surfaces. I interact with life and time’s marks. I take these surfaces in embracing their marks, then add my own and send them back out to be possessions again. I want it to be a record of my times and ideas. Right now I’m unsure if art is really going to work out, so the chessboards came out in my work. The ideas of deadly games between animals, people, all reflects the real world and my place in it. The game of life. I try not to be literal and I use a lot of things to represent my ideas. Animals are a good one, and lately dense patches of flowers and plants, intertwined with shadows and eyes peering out. The idea of inviting beauty mixed with death. A lot of my work is about balance. It’s developing day by day. The whale is for this police state, swallowing up everything. There is some others, some re-occur, some develop into other things.

I started working with books 4 or 5 years ago, (originally just for there yellowed pages); eventually I began dissecting them and strictly working on the end pages. I take the idea that people read the summary of the book on the end pages, there’s no width to scare any one, and a picture is worth a thousand words. All these books are discarded when I find them. They’ll never give information again so I update them so they can communicate again. I think I’ll stay working with them for a while, till the next thing finds me.

BS: Have you had any recent exhibits that you would like to tell our readers about? Also, do you have any exhibits planned for 2008?

JB: Well this summer I had a solo show Entitled "Trail Of An Octopus" at Sensei Gallery in Manhattan. I’ve done three or four shows in the last couple of months, including Fountain with Adhoc which just finished up. I would really just like to get back in the studio now, focus on just work for a couple of months then hopefully do it again.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

JB: Nope I think that’s it... thanks...
You can learn more about John Breiner by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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