LA based artist, Brian Smith, has an instantly recognizable painting esthetic. His dark futurescapes emanate an aura that is both beautiful and alien. Working both in the figurative realm and the abstract arena, he channels a consistent sense of vast expansiveness, even in his smaller works. The inspiration for his transformative painting’s subjects come from a variety of sources. His wondrously complex background environments and more abstract executions remind me of an interconnected cellular world with a complex nerve center of firing synapses.
Some of his hypnotic portraiture communicates a subject frozen in a state of metamorphosis- as if simulating the moment of impact from an intense explosion, or the warping effects of time travel, or the painful reconfiguration of a being in a state of shape shifting. Brian’s paintings transport you to a place that is feels cold and isolated. Although I greatly enjoy visiting this foreboding place, it is not an environment I would want to be trapped inside.
I have visited Brian at his East LA studio a couple times and enjoyed lively discussions over beer and BBQ. Brian is a regular, affable guy who makes for unsuspecting surrealist visionary. He’s leading the disciplined artist’s life- focused daily on staying true to his vision, while never being complacent. I own a couple pieces by him and never tire of studying their intricate compositions.
Rick Galiher: Grasp (When did you feel you really found your groove as an artist?)
Brian Smith: A few years ago is when I started doing paintings that I thought were pretty good, and they were happening more consistently.
RG: God (What is she/he/it for you?)
BS: I've never given it that much thought. I just never even really know where to start with things like that.
RG: Gore (What is the most graphic work you've created?)
BS: Probably the one of a soldier getting blown apart.
RG: Guidance (What advise do you have for aspiring artists?)
BS: Painting and drawing and making even a very modest living doing it is a pretty great thing. I spend all day, every day doing what I want. I think you've just gotta know how to motivate yourself to get really into whatever you're doing.
RG: Greatness (What would be the crowning achievement for you as an artist?)
BS: My 4 or 5 best pieces are my "crowning achievements". The work is where it's at. Nothing else even comes close.
RG: Goofs (How many revisions does an average work go through?)
BS: A lot. Sometimes I feel like the entire painting is just one big mistake that I'm trying to fix.
RG: Galleries (What's the best way of getting in the door?)
BS: Do good work, . . and a lot of it. I really don't know if that's the best way, but it should be.
RG: Grade (What kind of art do you give a low mark to?)
BS: As far as paintings go, I guess I don't really care for work that comes off looking too staged, or too perfect.
RG: Grumpy (What puts you in a foul mood?)
BS: I think I'm grumpy all of the time. I'm always feeling pretty good too. It's like they're both always happening at the same time.
RG: Gone (What have you lost that you wish you could get back?)
BS: I don't know, . . . nothing. I really don't think about things like that.
RG: Gasp (What is the most shocking image you have seen in the last year?)
BS: Probably pics and video footage of people being swept away by the tsunami flooding in Japan.
RG: Grease (What is your favorite brain lubricant?)
BS: Most of the time it's just cheap coffee and good music.
RG: Gag me with a spoon (What do you despise about the art world?)
BS: I think the art world's ok. I'm just glad that there is such a thing. I guess I'd have to say any kind of favoritism or half-assed or gimmicky art. It just dumbs it all down when bad work takes up space in good galleries. Last year there was an "invisible" art exhibit at a museum in London.
RG: Ghosts (Who or what is always with you?)
BS: I used to have these weird dreams as a kid and they're still always in the back of my mind. It would happen after I took "Contact" flu medicine. They were scary as hell and amazing too. Good stuff to paint.
RG: Growth (How do push boundaries as an artist?)
BS: One way just comes from generating a lot of work. When you do that, you want to repeat yourself less-and-less, so you start experimenting more-and-more.
RG: Giants (What artists have influenced and inspired you?)
BS: There are tons of 'em. As far as painters go, it's guys like Robert Williams, Giger, Beksinski, Francis Bacon, Roberto Matta, Robert Venosa. I could go on and on.
RG: Gossip (Do you have any good dirt?)
BS: Now that you mention it, I think I probably DO!
RG: Guts (What else does it take to be an artist?)
BS: I think you almost have to become kind of obsessed to get really good and make any kind of living at it.
RG: Gas (What fuels the images you create?)
BS: I really just try to paint the kinds of things I want to see and like looking at.
RG: Gushing (Are you comfortable with receiving praise for your work?)
BS: Haha, yeah, . . when it happens I'm glad to hear it.
RG: Gilligan’s Island (What character from the show o you connect most with?)
BS: I liked Mr. Howell. He never lifted a finger, and was always trying to bribe people with money even though it was totally useless on that island.
RG: Gadgets (What's your favorite?)
BS: I don't really even have anything besides a cheap phone and my old computer. I'm really far behind when it comes to that kind of thing.
RG: Go (Where would you like to travel and why?)
BS: I'd like to go to South America to see the ruins down there. It just sounds more interesting than anywhere else to me.
RG: Grindstone (How do stay motivated?)
BS: I force myself. Painting is all I do so I've got absolutely no choice but to stay busy. Being unmotivated for too long isn't really even an option.
RG: Gawking (Do you enjoy watching people react to your work?)
BS: Nah. I'd hate to think that I might be putting pressure on anybody like that.
RG: Good Grief (What frustrates you about painting/drawing?)
BS: The entire process is generally pretty frustrating to me. It's what I like to do so I'm not complaining, but I really look forward to the end result more than anything else.
RG: Geeking out (How has technology helped you with your craft?)
BS: It hasn't. I mean, . . it's helped me to get my work out there online, but it hasn't helped me make paintings.
RG: Gestation (How long does it take you to create a work?)
BS: 2-4 weeks. Any longer than that and I'll lose interest or overwork it to death.
RG: G-spot (At what point during the creative process do you get the most pleasure?)
BS: Sometimes you've got a good painting going, but it's missing something that could make it a REALLY good one. Figuring out what that is, is what it's all about.
RG: Goose Bumps (What scares the shit out of you?)
BS: 1984, . . . Orwelian, police-state kinds of things.
RG: Guarantees (What can be expected in the LA art scene?)
BS: There are some good galleries and opportunities here. Lots of shows and great artists and collectors and people that appreciate art. I'm glad it exists.
RG: Get out (What do you do when you're not in your studio?)
BS: I go to my girlfriend's place but I paint there too.
RG: Gig (What is your next show or project?)
BS: I have 3 paintings in the "Conjoined" show at Copro Gallery here in LA.
Interview by Rick Galiher. Images courtesy of the artist.