INTERVIEW WITH BRANDI READ

This interview was conducted by Linnea Strid in September of 2016.


LS: Id like to start by going back to where it all started. Where did you grow up and what kind of child were you? The social, popular and outgoing kind or the typical anti-social artist type kid?

BR: I grew up in West Michigan until I was ten years old, when my twin sister and I moved to Florida where we lived with our grandparents. I felt like a grown up when we moved back to Kalamazoo, Michigan at fifteen to live with our father, but I guess technically, I wasn't. I think being a twin was a large factor in the development of my personality. I was not the stereotypical, introverted artist. I have always been outspoken and outgoing, probably because I was competing for attention with my sister. I laugh loudly and often, usually at my own jokes. I feel like I've always been “in trouble” for my volume level at school and also in work settings. I can never hide because everyone knows where I am in a building because they can hear my booming voice and laughter from great distances. I have explained countless times that “this is my normal voice”.


LS: At what age did you know that you wanted to become an artist and how did that come about?

BR: When I was ten years old I had my career goals narrowed down to either gymnast, artist, or hairstylist. My grandparents signed me up for gymnastics, dance and art lessons, and after a couple years I was asked to focus on one. I chose to continue taking art lessons once a week in the back room of a little art supply store in Bradenton, Florida by a lady named “Kat”. I still have my first acrylic paintings signed by my twelve year old self in a storage unit in Michigan. I chose art specifically because the grown ups in my life at the time, including my middle school art teacher,  my grandparents, and Kat made me feel like a 'big deal'. They encouraged me by making me feel like I had a special talent for art. (I didn't). I have since looked back at the work I did in middle school and believe me, it was not good. They tricked me. I was so inspired by their encouragement that I put in the time and effort that eventually led me to meet the par they all convinced me I had already achieved.


LS: Are there any specific events in your life that you know helped shape you as an artist?

BR: Artists are always evolving and personal experience is absolutely a factor in how we interpret the world around us in our art. That said, yes  -there are very specific events in my life that have shaped who I am as an artist. The style I work in is very controlled and methodical. I think everyone can look at my paintings and know for certain there are no “happy mistakes”. Where the paint is on my canvas  is exactly where I meant it be. This is probably due to the uncertainty I experienced in my childhood. My siblings and I had periods of what some would consider stability, but we really never knew what to expect in regard to where, or with whom we were going to live.

The content and themes of my work was also born of personal experience. My interest in mythology began in college when I took a Greek and Roman art history class that led to a mythology class. My work has always been very feminine, but became more feminist over time. My experience of living as a woman in this time in history continues to perpetuate this theme in my work. A few years ago my sister was excited about being hired for a new job. A couple months later a man that had worked for her at her last place of employment was looking for a job and she was happy to endorse him when he applied for a position at her new company. She was very disappointed and confused when she learned that he was both making more than her and was also expected to answer to her. When the chef at my last place of employment told me that he couldn't “pay a young girl more than he pays a man with a family” (although she worked there longer and did the same job) my feminism and interest in how we look at and perpetuate gender roles grew.  A lot of the mythological characters I began painting are victims of rape, such as Flora. I began painting “The Oppression of Flora” after I came to the realization that every woman that was close to me at that time was also a victim of rape.


LS: Some people say that you need to go through a big trauma to some extent to be able to create better art. "Suffer for your art" so to speak. Do you agree with this?

BR: I do think that trauma is a catalyst for better art. I have said several times that “I'm going to make some really good art out of this” as a reaction to trauma or a major life change. The way we react to trauma and the symptoms we experience as a result of trauma can be varied and not necessarily directly related to the perceived severity of the trauma. That is, a break up with a boyfriend of three months may affect someone the same way the sudden death of a child may affect another. Art making is very meditative and therapeutic. Even those who don't actively meditate are familiar with the benefits of meditation, which are the same benefits of art making. Whenever I have to decompress I go sit at my easel and “check out”.  I also believe that the especially good parts of life, such as falling in love or getting that grant you applied for operate the same way to inspire better art. I think the key to great art is to not live a boring life. We have to draw inspiration from the bad and good stuff that we experience.


LS: You recently moved from the US to Bahrain in the Middle East. Tell us a little about how it is to live and work there as a foreign female artist.

BR: I have lived here for six weeks. I'm still figuring everything out. My logistical concerns were having the art supplies I needed to make paintings. I sent most of my studio here in boxes. There were some things I couldn't send, such as solvents and alkyds. I found those things at an art supply store close to where I live. They seem to have most of what I need and when I found the store Bahrain immediately started feeling more like home.

There are only a couple of art galleries here on the island. I've visited one gallery and plan to visit another this week. The art you find here depends on the gallery you go to. Abstract Expressionism is very popular here. The gallery I visited featured a lot of work in that style.  

The island has been a place of revolution, or uprising of the Shia majority against the Sunni ruling family. There are often protests and Molotov cocktails being thrown around the island in the “red flag” areas that Americans are warned not to enter into. When I went to extend my visa I inquired about the availability of an artist visa and was told that they only issue them to musicians. You could feel the tension, and my friend mused on our way out that if I had told him I was a journalist that he probably would have taken me upstairs to “ask me some questions”. Because of the political strife, Bahrain officials have been under fire for violating human rights, torturing and killing peaceful protesters, including women. The gallery I would like to visit this week features artists that are activists from Bahrain and also neighboring countries here in the Middle East. There is a line I have to walk here. Freedom of speech does not exist in this country and journalist and activists are imprisoned without trial here. Feminism exists and is a concern for women here, but it seems like it is taking a backseat to the other political issues on the island. All of that said, I have yet to figure out where I fit- not only conceptually, but also aesthetically.


LS: You make truly stunning paintings of sculptures from Greek mythology combined with delicate, lush flowers that seem to exist in their own surreal universe. Your paintings are beautiful just the way they are but I know there's a lot more to them than just that. Please tell us more about these pieces and what you want to convey with them.

BR: I started painting sculpture because I wanted to address how we perpetuate gender roles and violence against women extending to rape culture by looking at how we retell stories from mythology with visual language. Looking at a neoclassical sculptors' interpretation of a story from mythology and then retelling that, watering it down, adding and omitting details based on my own personal experience seemed like the logical way to pose that question. Conceptually, changing an object that is literally “set in stone” was another way to question ever changing gender roles and how we view women and their place in society. The flower is a general symbol of women and also individual flowers have their own meanings or connotations that are associated with them. I painted the white lilies in “Keeping it Pure” because that flower is associated with the concept of “purity”. I often use peonies because they are associated with “shame”. Merope was surrounded by peonies in “Still Looking”. I did this because she was shamed and ejected from her celestial family (Pleiades) after marrying a human. The subtle black roses in the background of “The Oppression of Flora” were meant to symbolize “tragic love” as is the dead bouquet in “The Death of Nydia”. None of the details in my work are arbitrary. I specifically make work that is easy to look at. It's a trap. I don't believe my work is automatically viewed as feminist and that is intentional. I want to communicate my ideas without alienating viewers because unfortunately, feminism continues to have negative connotations.


LS: How important is an all female art collective as of today?

BR: I think it's not only important, but necessary. Females have been forming collectives and banding together as artists for many decades. This is because we are underrepresented. It will no longer be necessary to form all female collectives when the day comes that I can look at a group exhibition roster, or artists represented by a gallery, or artists featured in museums -and see 90% female artists and 10% male artists. As it stands now we see mostly or 90%  men represented in those spaces and no one bats an eye. The few token ladies represented by galleries and in museums is not good enough for me to feel like the concerns we have as women are being addressed. We haven't nearly reached equality in this industry. We have a long way to go.


LS: You are a feminist artist. What does the word feminism mean to you and why do you think it is still a word that people find provocative?

BR: Feminism challenges the status quo. It's annoying for those who are already comfortable with their place in the social hierarchy. Women are always confused by other women who are anti-feminists. It doesn't make sense, right? “Why wouldn't you want equal pay for equal work” It's weird -Except they simply are making the money they feel they are worth at their job, and they drive to work so street harassment isn't a concern for them. Our personal politics are driven by personal experience. The woman that says that she doesn't need feminism today may eventually change her mind down the road if something happens in her life to provoke that change...if she is sexually harassed or discriminated against at work, for example.

Feminism implies that things aren't already perfect, and that we need change and for those who are comfortable it feels like a conflict. We want to avoid confrontation. I'm a feminist because the status quo encourages and perpetuates discrimination and gender violence against women.



LS: Have you personally encountered any sexism and/or male nepotism in the art world/art community?

BR: We all have. I wonder what my exhibition history (cv) would look like if I had changed my name to “Brandon Read” and used male pronouns?


LS: Do you ever suffer from art withdrawal if you don't get to make art for a while?

BR: Yes!, but specifically painting. I can draw but it's not the same. I had to pack my studio three weeks before I could send it all here and then travelled for a couple weeks before I arrived here in Bahrain.. I went over a month without painting and I felt like I was losing my mind.


LS: Who or what inspires you?

BR: Inspiration is so exciting. I'm referring to the manic stage of inspiration -when my heart races and I taste that familiar taste in my mouth associated only with great amounts of adrenaline. My hands are sweaty and I know I will never ever go to sleep or eat right until I act on this idea or plan that inspired me to make art. I try, but the food doesn't taste right. I just keep chewing and chewing. I can't sleep until 3 am and I'm  up again by 7 without even feeling tired. Seeing an amazing sculpture or reading a story that I relate to and have to interpret in my own way might trigger that physical response. I am mostly inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, specifically how the stories and characters within them are interpreted and retold by other artists and writers.

Outside sources can cause this same level of inspiration, such as love, and wanting to be amazing for someone else, another artist's work that you love, or an upcoming exhibition. You can envision what the work will look like and imagine others response to it. Basically, anything can turn into inspiration, but it takes imagination to do it.


LS: What is the best thing about being an artist?

BR: The feeling that anything is possible is the best part about being an artist. We take ideas and questions from nothing and turn them into something that exists for others to enjoy or learn from.


LS: If you were to be reborn as an animal or an object, what would it be?

BR: I love being human so much. If I had to be reborn as an animal or object it would be... a priceless artwork, valued by (almost) everyone and never discarded.   


LS: Where would you like to be in 10 years? Both career wise and geographically.

BR: I would love to have several museum shows and gallery representation by then, and it doesn't matter where I live. I love to travel and I can make paintings anywhere. My husband is in the navy so I have to live my life as if we can be sent anywhere there is water. I love water so it is a happy life.


LS: If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?

BR: If a book were written about me I would likely be the author and it would be my memoirs. I would title it “An Unlikely Story” but that could easily change in the next couple minutes.


LS: What is the most annoying question you usually get about your art?

BR: “How long did that take”? I am frequently asked that question. I used to answer in weeks or months, but that answer is so vague. You might have 20 hours to spend on a painting one week but 80 the next. I put hash marks on the edge of “The Oppression of Flora” for every hour I spent on that painting. It took 420 hours. That's the last time I counted. Now I just respond “a long time” or “many fortnights” “many moons ago I began this work” or...


LS: And lastly, speaking of something a bit more general in terms of art. A hot topic right now is the gallery's role. A lot of galleries are closing and blame the decreased art sales on internet and social media. How important do you think art galleries will be for artists in the future?

BR: I am not represented by a gallery. (I have no idea what I'm talking about) That said, I think they are important. Galleries serve to build the reputation of an artist and place their work in important collections. The gallery system has it's own social hierarchy, and like our current economy the middle class is being eliminated. I wouldn't place the blame solely on social media and the internet -To say that would be assuming that artists are actually having comparable sales on their personal websites that they were in galleries years ago and I doubt many artists on our particular rung of the gallery ladder are. I would be just as quick to blame the diminishing sales and resulting closure of galleries on the diminishing middle class in general. People just don't have the disposable income that they once did to purchase art. As far as how important galleries will be for artists in the future- I think the answer depends on what the end goal for the artist is. Is it fame and glory? A little bit of money? Art history books will probably never reference our facebook accounts, but we might feed ourselves.


LS: Thank you so much Brandi for taking your time to answer these questions, it's a true honor to be in the same collective with you and I can't wait to see what you will create in the future.

 © Grrrl Art 2016