The Vegas Session, interview with Erik Den Breejen
Chris: OK I want to thank you both so much for being willing to take the time to show your work in our fairly new little gallery in Vegas. I am huge fans of your work and think seeing all our work together will tell an interesting story or be a great conversation. I think people are going to dig it.
Seeing that we all work with text in different ways... I think this is the first way viewers will see the work and make a connection right away; so how did you arrive at using text in your work? What was the need for it? What were you thinking about when you started adding text into the paintings?
Erik: I've always been attracted to words, poems, lyrics, and the desire to do something visual with them has been with me since I was a kid. I used to do calligraphy of Pink Floyd lyrics in middle school, try to write Cure lyrics in their "font" in high school, etc. I suppose those are my earliest "text" pieces, but I don't know if I thought of them as art at the time. I was also always making work with imagery, and would sometimes try to incorporate text into the picture, but more often than not, it seemed that the two elements were at odds with one another. In 2005, I developed the inverted text word blocks that I use today, and it was a breakthrough. I could use them to structure the whole picture, like Mondrian or something. The text and blocks were nonrepresentational for many years, until I started strategically coloring them to make imagery, which is the focus of most of my work now.
Chris: You guys have been doing music a lot longer than I have/did. I had a band in High-school and in my early 20's but stopped for various reasons; how do you see "performance" in painting comparable to the "performance" of playing music or not? And Erik I know you did stand-up… now that is a whole other thing all together; or is it?
Erik: I'm very interested in a performer's relationship with an audience. I try to convey this in the way I portray my subjects--to get at the vulnerability. It's a lot of power to have thousands of people paying attention to you, but I think the secret of a great performance is to be intimate with such a mass audience. I actually haven't done stand up, but I'm fascinated with it, and would love to give it a try, and think my background in performing music could give me a little bit of a head start. The performative element of my painting could be said to be monastic; one imagines the artist painting words day after day, as if it were an illuminated manuscript. I also see color and light as being performative and musical.
Chris: Erik you grew-up in California, Oakland, and Joe you went to undergrad in Seattle and I grew-up in Western Mass; all of these places had cool music coming out when we were young. Did music come first? Or did Painting?
Erik: I've been painting and drawing my whole life, but didn't start playing music until I was nine. The earliest music I'm conscious of hearing is The Beatles, Paul Simon, Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Eagles. Then I got into Weird Al and stuff on the Dr. Demento show. Then into the Beatles by choice, then Floyd, and then it became a full-blown obsession when I was twelve. I love the legacy of the 60's SF concert venues and a lot of the bands, but it really bums me out how smug the Bay could be towards LA, which really had way more killer music coming out of it in the 60's. I was really into Red House Painters when they came out, and it gave me some regional pride, even though he's got a strong midwestern streak.
Chris: What are you excited about in your work at the moment?
Erik: The ability to suggest specific visual phenomena rather than spell it out or depict it literally. My means of representation are very limited, and it's both challenging and rewarding to try and tackle some of these images, and it's exciting to pull off some of this stuff. I'm continuing to enjoy the two types of perception a viewer goes between when engaging with the work--a visual reading or a narrative reading.
Chris: I recently was at an artist residency for 3 weeks and man was it wicked amazing! I got more work done in 3 weeks than I have in 2 years. It was at the ACA with Suzanne McClelland between her and the other amazing associate artist she and they, shook-me-up and challenged me and I started putting things into the painting that I thought I would never do. It was so weird for me to realize how I was limiting myself out of some thought of "pureness" (Not sure if that is the right word)… or thinking I don't do that, I do this. It is so freeing to let go sometimes. Not sure but there is a question somewhere in here.... Can you relate? Working through problems?
Erik: That sounds great. I think when you're lucky to get some uninterrupted time to just work, you get in a groove and things become very natural. The paintings kind of take on a life of their own, and the artist's role can simply be to nourish them into existence.