Art Chat with Brin Levinson
Brin Levinson's adoration for the Pacific Northwest has had a profound influence on the Portland based artist. Since calling 'Stumptown' home 15 years ago, his work has progressed to a beautifully haunting blend of urban landscapes and native wildlife. In anticipation of STRAIGHT OUTTA PORTLAND opening this Friday at Stephanie Chefas Projects, we had a chat with the talented Portlander. Here he talks about his process, the inspiration behind his painting for the show, and Frank Frazetta.
What was it about Portland that made you fall in love and call this city home? How has living in the Pacific Northwest shaped your creativity?
When I moved here 15 years ago, Portland was still weird. The old buildings, water towers and rail yards were like things I’d had dreams about. Misty winter days in the northwest have a unique and nostalgic beauty that have been a source for inspiration to me for a long time. Being in Portland was very important to the birth of my urban landscape work because I based most of my paintings on places around the here. If I didn’t live in the northwest, I don’t know what my art would look like.
Tell us about your process. How does a work evolve from conception to completion?
I usually start with looking at pictures and taking a lot of pictures. I use them as a jumping off point. Sometimes you go on a tangent with ideas that can become a series of pantings. Other times each piece is like a new experiment because you want to try something different. I usually don’t sketch, I just start painting with loose washes. The whole painting evolves with many layers of paint. It’s like focusing a lens in increments. This technique takes a long time but it’s how I like to work, it’s very free, I don’t worry about “staying in the lines”. I tend to be a perfectionist and do a lot of analyzing. When nothing about the painting bothers me, I can call it finished.
Your work for Straight Outta Portland is a fantastic blend of Portland's architecture and wildlife. Tell us about the inspiration behind this piece.
There was a day when the Willamette river was really calm and glassy. I just happened to be walking down there on the east bank under the Burnside bridge. The reflection was really amazing in the water and there was really nice light so I took some pictures. The painting is a panoramic, almost fish-eye view but both sides of the bridge are actually the whole bridge looking west. The left half of the painting is the south side of the bridge and the right half is the north side, I joined them together in the middle. This way, you can see both sides of the bridge in one image. I’ve painted the Burnside bridge a few times, I love the style of the turrets and it’s subtle pink color. Pigeons and crows are always present, they love the bridge too. Most of my work focuses on nature in the urban landscape.
If you could hang only one artwork from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
When I was at Cal Arts for animation, someone had photocopied pages from a Frank Frazetta book and they gave one to me. I put it on my studio wall and have always had it up ever since. I think that little page has given me such a huge painting lesson over the years, I’d go with Frazetta all the way.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn't necessarily know.
I used to make single stringed electric upright basses called “whamolas” in my garage shop.
If I were to spend the day with Brin, what could I expect?
Are you ready for a crazy day?? I start off slowly and start working usually by late morning or noon. My peak energy is in the early evening so I usually work best later in the day and often into the night. I take a lot of breaks and go outside, walk to the coffee shop and check out the view. I take my dog Charlie to the park usually twice a day. I could paint all day or make panels and frames in my tiny shop or pack and ship. I avoid the rat race, it’s the biggest perk to being self employed. Stress is a plague (speaking of rats) so, I avoid that too. If it’s a rare nice day, I might head to the coast or mountain. I never go anywhere without my camera, binoculars and dog. I love looking at things in nature.
STRAIGHT OUTTA PORTLAND opens February 5th at Stephanie Chefas Project, 305 SE 3rd Ave., Portland, OR 97214, www.stephaniechefas.com