We are honored to have two pieces from Brin Levinson (previously featured back in October 2013) at 111 Minna for the Empty Kingdom Summer Art Show that is still going on through July! Contemplating, humans, their place in the environment and the future of the world due to our actions, Brin poses a world in ruins. Check out his interview:
What has the highlight of your week been?
I got an invitation to be in a group show this fall at a gallery in NY, which I’m very happy about!
How many years have you been in Portland now? How has the city changed through the time you’ve been there? How has your art facilitated your perception of Portland? What do you see of the city that you might not have?
I’ve been here for 13 years. The biggest changes I’ve seen have happened over the last year or two with all the apartment buildings going up everywhere. Also, they changed the “Made in Oregon” sign to say “Portland Oregon”; a hugely stupid change.
Originally it was the industrial aspects of the city that inspired my paintings. I really like old places with a history that you can feel. So in that sense, it was the city that facilitated the vision for my art. The biggest way my art has facilitated my perception of the city is that I pay more attention to the urban animals now. We have coyotes and recently a black bear was in town. There have been a lot of geese and ducks with babies walking around and crossing the bridge lately. I tend to think about what it must be like for an animal in the human world.
In what ways has your depiction of Portland changed since you moved here? What of your own development do you see in the different framing of Portland?
I’m still attracted to the same parts of the city, like the water towers and bridges. I’m still trying to create imagery that is nostalgic and dreamlike, so that part is the same. But now I pay more attention to the details and the general atmosphere. Something as simple as mist in the trees will inspire a whole painting.
Can you tell us about the pieces you sent to 111 Minna? What were they about? What were you thinking about when you came up with the idea?
The pieces I picked for the 111 Minna show have aspects that are similar such as animals that are much larger than they would be in real life. “Summer of the Locusts” is a painting of a giant grasshopper sitting on top of an old rusty train engine. I love to exaggerate proportions and stay away from depicting things literally. But it’s hard to do that without crossing into a different genre. I’m happy when I can do that and stay in my own universe. These pieces have a sort of dark humor that some people see and others don’t, which I like. They’re very narrative like one frame from a bizarre old movie.
You’re currently working out of a studio that is in a building with a number of other fantastic artists. How often do you collaborate or rely on each other for inspiration? How strong is the community of the building? Do you think it is important for artists to come together as a community to work together and support each other? Or should they strike out on their own to seek pure expression? How can artists who are just starting out find a community to join for support, encouragement and mentorship?
It’s great to have a group of artists who are all professional and involved in the same scene. We talk a lot about business and what’s going on in our part of the art world. We definitely through ideas around but we’re all doing very different work so actual collaboration or crossover is rare. Everyone is absorbed in their own insanity.
Really the best part is having people around that understand what you’re doing and can relate to the process of making art. Usually being a painter or sculptor is a solitary experience and it can be isolating. When you have a group that is dedicated and motivated, it’s inspiring energy to be around. It’s been very helpful in a lot of ways for me personally.
During the previous interview you painted a fairly bleak picture of humanity’s impact on the planet. We are currently driving a number of animals to extinction, but at the same time we’re the only species that has been to the moon. Do you think human beings can find balance? Can we live harmoniously with the Earth?
I did mention our current extinction period and yes, most animals are on the decline. Recently, there was one wolf pack confirmed in Oregon and it consisted of two wolves. A lot of people want to kill them because they’re considered pests. What would harmony look like with seven billion people (and growing) now on the planet? After learning the statistics, being optimistic about that is not really possible. We’re consuming everything as fast as possible even with the knowledge that the limit is very near.
But harmony on this planet is a relative thing that comes and goes I think. Sometimes certain animals become very successful through some form of evolutionary advantage and things become unbalanced. The population gets unsustainable and they start to die off once they’ve ruined their habitat. I do think we’re smart enough to endure but it’s not going to be most of us and it’s not going to be pretty. If it happens it’s going to be a few of the smart ones and the rest of us will die off in our suburban walmart habitats. Then, the next evolution happens…
There are so many hours and so much work that goes into a piece that it doesn’t seem like even an hour in front of a piece could do justice to everything that went on in the mind of the artist, all the nuance of each stroke or color. What goes into your pieces that no one ever sees that you wished they did?
Personally I think under paintings can sometimes be more interesting than a finished piece. I’d like to keep things loose and intuitive. It’s easy to over work the subtle areas that can make a painting really good. Ultimately what I want to create is something beautiful, so that’s really all I hope people see in the finished work.
Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling drained? What are your escapes?
I just took a little time off after finishing a show and it was good to re-charge. I’m trying some new things and seeing if ideas will work. Photography is part of my process most of the time so I take new pictures and look at older ones that I’d forgotten about. Getting out and seeing new places is always a great way to get a fresh perspective. I definitely like to be outdoors in the sun.
What is a guilty pleasure song or musician?
Two seconds ago I discovered David Byrne radio, I have to say it’s pretty good!
I like everything from Agnes Obel to Rage against the Machine.