artist of the week: Bret Brown
Local art is the best kind of art. Surrounded by the surf/skate culture of SoCal and graffiti, Bret developed his own style over time with hints of these influences. We took some time to talk to local SLO artist and friend, Bret Brown about his upbringing, creative process, and why he prefers movement rather than sport.
"I’d say a common thread in my process is my sketchbook."
Let's run through your childhood upbringing and background.
I took my first official art class in middle school and followed up taking several classes during high school. I had a few influential teachers at that time that really pushed me to pursue my art. I then went to school in Colorado, after receiving a few scholarships, and ended up with my BA in Fine Art.
Since my formal art schooling, my career has had its ebbs and flows. I’ve had periods where I’ve pushed really hard to get my work out into the world followed up with long stretches where I sort of disappear. I think this has hindered my success in some ways but in others it’s the only way I know how to sustain my creativity. I need times to hibernate!
Some recent fun projects have been several murals in SLO including a piece for SLO Public Art and a new poke restaurant called Poke Rito and a collaborative piece I did with Jeff Claassen at SLODOCO. I’ve also been fortunate to team up with Astral Footwear recently for some design work which has been super fun. There will be some new product launching in spring 2018 with my work on it which I’m super stoked on. I’ve also been fortunate to participate in some amazing art shows put on by folks such as Volcom, Pangeaseed. Surfrider Foundation, F+Gallery,
Where are you from?
I was born in Fullerton and basically grew up in Orange County. Living in Southern California influenced me in so many ways. My parents spent a lot of time taking my brother and I to the beach to surf, especially during the summer months. This experience definitely helped shape my art as I was immersed in the surf/skate culture from the get go.
From an aesthetic perspective, I think being surrounded by graffiti art and tagging had a strong influence on me as well. I also realized at a young age that I didn’t really belong in SoCal and made plans to leave as soon as I could. I basically left when I was 18 to attend school in Colorado and only returned for a short period of time afterwards before rooting in SLO.
"I find myself working in layers and with each subsequent layer I slow down and bring in more the cognitive process."
We appreciate a good story when it comes to the creative process. What's yours look like?
This depends on what type of creative project I’m working on but I’d say a common thread in my process is my sketchbook. I keep one at my side constantly. Sometimes to sketch, scribble, glue scraps of things inside, sometimes I jot down ideas, inspirational things, etc. When I paint it’s very intuitive and emotive. I get into trouble if I initially think too much.
I find myself working in layers and with each subsequent layer I slow down and bring in more the cognitive process. Is this working compositionally? How’s this color palette working out? How are the lines and shapes? Etc. But initially it’s a bit of a free for all. My illustrative work on the other hand is very thought out and preconceived. It’s way less emotional and more technical. It’s also much more meditative for me which I find is a nice balance between the expressionistic work.
Art covers a breadth of styles and reasons why things are created. From what we see, there seems to be a blend of playfulness and abstraction. How would you describe your style?
I do have a few distinct styles. One is extremely narrative and the other more abstract. I think I’ve spent the majority of my art career trying to find ways to combine the two that without subtracting too much from either. But in a way this feels like speaking two different languages at the same time.
So through the years I’ve gone back and forth between separating them and then integrating them. My more narrative style lends itself to more commercial projects and murals and the abstract work is more personal. Each style is influenced from a slightly different source. The character work in my narrative style is really influenced by my daughter and the piles of children’s books I’ve read to her over the years. The abstract works source is much deeper, more intuitive, and instinctual.
Art can take over one's life from time to time. Do you enjoy any other hobbies outside of creating?
If you look at the things outside of art that I’m interested in (yoga, movement practice, meditation, jiu jitsu, surfing, trail running, etc) I’d say the common theme is movement. I grew up playing team sports but I never felt at home doing so. But I appreciate using my body and engaging in things that challenge me physically, psychologically, mentally, etc.
I believe a big part of it is this idea of introspection and the benefits that come from paying deep attention to what’s happening internally. Another aspect of each of these activities is you can’t do them half-ass. You need to be fully engaged and mindful.
I used to love surfing a twin fin fish and for years I called it my favorite board. I also have a 9’ log/pig shaped by southern cal shaper Todd Messick which is an amazing board for those slow summer days. But a few years ago I met up with local SLO shaper Nathan Doles and I convinced him to shape me a little 5’ mini simmons. Seriously, it’s one of the best boards I have ever ridden. It’s fast, forgiving, paddles easily into 2 foot mush, waves several feet overhead, and everything in between. It’s my go to board on 90% of the days I surf up here on the central coast.
We love hearing about different travel stories. What's yours?
I’ve been so fortunate to have had some amazing adventures in my life. Driving from SLO to costa rica for a 6 month surf trip, climbing mountains in Ecuador and Bolivia, to sitting meditation retreats at Buddhist monasteries in Thailand to name a few. One trip I haven’t done, and that still sits heavily on my mind, is driving up the Alcan Highway to Alaska. The interior space is what draws me in. The vastness of the land up there. My mother’s family was from Whitehorse Yukon Territory which is this small strip of land between Vancouver BC and Alaska. Would love to visit her birthplace and draw inspiration from the beauty up there.