I’ve known artist Brandon Friend for years, so the idea of having an exploratory conversation with him seemed only natural. You see, it’s nearly impossible to speak with Brandon without it leading to some form of discovery. He frequently stares off as he is making his points, disconnecting enough to find the right words without letting my reaction to them influence his choices. However serious he is while making these points he usually ends with a smile that has a way of endearing himself to you. Brandon himself appears very modern with black-rimmed glasses and a cleanly shaven skull, free of dents with only his eyebrows to show up in overexposed photographs.
The walls of his studio are perpetually tacked with works in progress. Scattered about the space are postcard-sized inspirations, sketches and snippets of printed photos that may find their way into his work. As I was setting up my recorder he went right back to it and continued working throughout our conversation. He is undoubtedly the most productive artist I’ve ever met. Years of cutting and pasting and scratching off and pasting again, accompanied by the sound of his navy blue hairdryer that helps further speed the process along. He is comfortable in his element as he works, appearing more like a man calmly putting back together a puzzle of his own creation than that of a tortured artist stricken with inner conflict. He makes a decision and moves on to the next, often working on three or more pieces at a time, crafting one while the others are drying. They are finished and cycled off into the ever-growing stack of canvases in the corner, destined for upcoming gallery shows and ultimately the collection of someone who it spoke to. As he speaks to me about his process I notice he uses the word “stories” often and it becomes clear that is how he approaches each piece. In one of his previous series he juxtaposed the images of the famed racehorse Secretariat with that of Caster Semenya, the South African track star who was subject to gender testing after she won a gold at the 2009 World Championships. A story without words but with space available for you to place your own opinions.
Ten years ago he was chosen to participate in a show titled “Propaganda” whose focus was the media’s consumption of pop iconography. He decided to incorporate printed images of the Olsen twins within his painting and the response caught his attention. This felt natural for him and he began “imprinting information” into his work, at first integrating it into his painting. These days there is virtually no pigmentation within his work, only layers of paper and acrylic medium on the canvas. Though many might categorize him as a collagist, he considers all of his pieces to be paintings rooted in abstract expressionism with his current work illustrating the progression of his painting style over time.
His ongoing “Defender” series is a commentary on the constant civil unrest around the world and the innate drive humans in numbers have towards violence. It is his quintessential work to date and the resulting images are so striking that they must be viewed in person to be fully appreciated. What he establishes is a catalyst for the resulting conversations, the clashing of opinions, the progression of the issue. The standout of the series so far is “Precipice”, a 36” x 54” which depicts two groups crashing into each other as the boiling point is reached and faceless violence is unavoidable. As you examine the image more figures become definable as if you are finding them within a cloud of teargas. It is the meeting of two equally matched teams in the sport of social revolt. The armored blue riot police versus the more eclectic mob.
A Brandon Friend piece must be viewed from two distances. While in close, you see brilliant colorful textiles and purposefully pixilated image transfers emerge and then define the edges of some other element. Then you must take a few steps back so you can experience the entire image, seeing the definable grid-like appearance his work has become known for, a result of the embraced limitations of his printing process. It’s work like this that moves people, physically, pushing and pulling them similar to the constant addition and subtraction within his process. The paintings are distinguished by their expansive nature and require more than the standard stop-and-look-and-continue routine. The smaller pieces in the series (square 8” x 8” canvases) depict one iconic warrior at a time in a way that reminds me of the glorified men on the baseball cards of my childhood. These are men acting like men and proud of their efforts towards the greater good. As a whole the “Defender” series is expected to be at least one hundred separate pieces of varying sizes, though he refused to give me any more information about where he might go with it.
All of his work seems to have an underlying message about the mass consumption of data. I asked Brandon, “Do you feel that your work is a commentary on the ADD generation or somehow a symptom of it?”
He said, “Whether or not we’re born into it, I think we are all affected by the way information is passed. People used to listen to the radio, they used to watch TV when things aired, everything wasn’t on demand. I think there’s a certain need for immediacy now that affects the way some people perceive information. They have no idea what’s going on. People forget there’s a reason we evolve.”
You can view Brandon’s work online and receive information about his upcoming shows at BrandonFriend.com or at his artists’ collaboration blog, BeNiceArtFriends.com. He also recently completed a collaboration with Domestic Construction on a series of printed floor mats available for purchase at domestic-conctruction.com.
Go see his work with your own eyes and bring someone along who you’d like to have a real conversation with.