Interview conducted by Yuko Shimizu.
1) You make illustrations. Also, you design, art direct, create fine art and large scale murals… Do you consider yourself an illustrator who does a lot of other things, a designer who also illustrates, or maybe just simply a “renaissance man”? And how does one discipline influence another?
I try to avoid a label for myself – I find it limits the work and how others may perceive my work, but if I had to put myself into a category, nowadays I’d say image-maker or story teller. By doing a lot of different types of work and being exposed to many different people (art directors, clients, assistants, other artists), I found more humility and confidence in my direction and discovered clearer ways to discuss my work. I also found by doing lots of different types of work, the studio becomes a continual place of excitement and discovery rather than “an office.”
2) Your work feels very effortless, spontaneous, and almost naïve in a way. But then again, the viewers can tell that they are not all elusive, but based on strong concept and strong skill in drawing. Can you let us know how you arrived to the style you work now? Also, a bit about your process and medium?
My early work was much busier and not as restrained. I was layering found materials, collage, mixed mediums, drawing… what a mess – the ideas were constantly obscured by the technique. I wasn’t happy doing the work, it always felt like a battle however, working in my sketchbooks on writing and drawing always gave me relief from that – a few art directors and other artists who I respected saw this and asked ‘how come you’re not just doing that?’ Eventually I had one project where I had my ‘fuck it, I’m going to just do this type of work moment’ – from there on, drawing won out over everything. Nowadays everything from the studio is done by hand, and always starts with writing or drawing words whether pencil pen or ink. Sometimes the words turn into images, sometimes the words stay as words. I strip away all excess marks and decoration and always make sure my voice is the most important thing in all the pieces. Most of the work is done by hand, but I use the computer to address the finish things like color adjustment, etc.
3) You have a serious SERIOUS passion of surfing. Even when you were on the crazy busy schedule as full time New York Times AD (how many years? Can you remind me?), you often woke up really early to surf in Long Island on the weekend. Right? How does your passion outside of art affect your art, and how important it is, you believe, to have a passion outside of art?
I think a passion outside of your work is the most important thing for any artist, especially a story teller. Travel, music, hike… whatever it is, find balance – I did not have that in NYC. I loved my time there, my friends the energy, but I was really living in one dimension while there – and trying to find outlets. I worked at the NY Times as an art director for the Opinion page for about 4 years. A great experience, but creatively it was limiting. I recall looking at people’s portfolios each day and I saw that those people who had great passion for other things were the most interesting to speak with and had the strongest work – it really lifted them personally and probably inspired more creative work. For me, traveling and surfing lift me the most because they clear my head and bring energy back into my work. I also shoot a lot of photos – people, places, odd things, simple moments – I understand more and more what I’m drawn to, my patterns of interests. Now that I’m out here in L.A. I try and make as much time for my surfing rather than squeezing it in before or after work – I have a few boards here at the studio and can be on the water in about a half hour. Fridays everyone is out by 3.
4) And speaking of something outside of art influencing your art – how is it living out in LA, moving from the East Cost (New York and Baltimore mainly) where you were for a long time? Has it affected how you think and work? (please go ahead and mention about Sweden if you like!)
I grew up on the east coast and studied and worked on the east coast, but I would travel out to California during the summers and just fall in love with it each time. L.A. has such a different vibe than back east – bigger space to work, great light, and a real special spirit – if you connect to it, you can’t help but feel good. I got out here and just started producing – it was as if I let go of everything before and I could devote a lot of time/ space to the things I wanted and should be making. Everything was new somehow and the work felt that way too. I love it out here. I spent about 10 months in Stockholm – I had a studio there preparing for a show in Barcelona. I got to see and experience a lot of Europe while there – I made life long friends who now influence and inspire what I do. It humbles you when you travel – you feel free, but you feel smaller than before – closer to the ground. More open, and you see more – this always helps your stories.
5) We want to know a bit about your monumental murals you occasionally create. You were collecting information on people’s fears? Do you have a lot of fears? Are you going to be doing any murals anytime soon?
We all have fears – some are big everyday ones, some small in the back of our minds. I tend to keep a lot of lists and one of my lists was a list of fears during my last year in New York. I was pretty anxious at the time so I would jot down concerns I had or things that made me worried. As I wrote more and more down, I realized I was worried about quite a bit and they were dictating choices in my life. After a few months I began to organize them into categories – things like physical and natural fears, political fears, random fears, etc. When I was invited to participate in the mural show at the Joan Miro Foundation in Barcelona – the context of a large scale wall of fears seemed like the perfect context and scale. Since then I’ve done a few other installations.
6) What are you up to, Brian? Any interesting projects, personal work, new passion… Etc? And can you share with the readers what’s on your horizon?
I continue to do my weekly illustrated column for the NY Times Modern Love series and other freelance book and editorial work – it’s been a joy to work on these, but the studio has begun to shift more toward gallery based work - I’m completing a few paintings for an exhibition in Mexico City at the moment, working on a book and continuing the series of word or ‘list’ based paintings for a show here in Los Angeles. I like the balance between the commercial and the personal work at the moment – not interested in picking just one – I just like where things are headed.
Los Angeles based artist Brian Rea is the former art director for the Op-Ed page of the New York Times and a guest art director for GOOD Magazine. He has exhibited and produced work for books, posters, murals, magazines and music videos and his work has been recognized by the Art Directors Club, Communication Arts, American Illustration and Print Magazine. Clients include The New York Times, Men’s Journal, Kate Spade, Time Magazine, Honda, Billabong and MTV. He has exhibited work in Barcelona, San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York and Tokyo. Currently Brian teaches at Art Center in Pasadena, California.
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