Adrian Landon Brooks is an American artist, making smart illustrative work with a neo-folk slant. He’s living in the hills outside of Austin, Texas. The move out to the sticks has been a big adjustment for the city kid. He and his wife, Dalyce with their 9 month old baby, Willow, have taken on the challenge so many of us dream for…building their own house. Fun, challenging, exhausting, rewarding…the gamut. I caught up with Adrian for a little interview in anticipation of his solo exhibition, ‘Miracle Worker’ opening on June 11th at Andenken Gallery in Amsterdam. Here’s what he had to say.
Hyland Mather: You moved from the Big City of Austin, out into the country. Do you have a shotgun rack?
Adrian Landon Brooks: I don’t think a shotgun rack would fit in our city slicker hybrid! Give me a few years and I might start embracing our new-found surroundings.
HM: I’ve heard you say your working process can be very meditative. Does your move to a more peaceful setting aide this creation meditation process, or do you find yourself missing the bustle?
ALB: I’ve always lived in big cities so the move is definitely an adjustment. I’ve managed to make work in all sorts of tiny closets and corners of dimly lit living rooms so it’s nice to have a dedicated space now. We have a lofted second floor that will serve as my studio ‘til we build something bigger down the line. I’ve learned to sit down and work regardless of the countless distractions surrounding me. All the outside noises are drowned out once I am engaged with the painting.
HM: You’re neck deep in the building of a house. I know for many creatives, building your own space is a massive dream. How is that going?
ALB: My wife and I have been building the last two years in the hill country outside of Austin, TX. I can honestly say it’s been the most challenging two years of my life but also just as rewarding. I am very accustomed to making my creative vision a reality with my artwork, but building was a whole other beast. One of the biggest challenges was learning to share a vision with another person and practicing the art of compromise. I am proud to say that we are now living in our place with our nine month old daughter, Willow. We are finally getting to the finishing stages of the process and can move on to the painting, staining and decorating. All the good stuff!
HM: When you were pretty young, 19-20, you and a few friends had a rental house, and I read that you had pretty much covered it with paint and ink by the time the lease was up. Is this the plan for the house you’re now building, or are you going to try and separate the work you make as an artist from the space you’re living in as a home builder?
ALB: I would like to keep some separation for sure but the work tends to spill over in most areas of my life and house. We decided on a lofted studio partially because it’s more economical to build up but also to better contain the clutter. My actual workspace usually just consists of a drafting table and maybe an easel but it’s the repurposed materials that take up the most room. I hit streaks of collecting interesting pieces and it might be months before I get around to using them. I would really like to build a barn shell for a studio sometime in the next few years. It would be interesting to see the direction of the work without as many space restraints.
HM: More and more you’re using found object as the substructure for your paintings. I’ve heard your work described as ‘neo-folk’. Do you see the found object as a contributing force to this description? When can we expect some more work on clean fresh panel?
ALB: The repurposed materials contribute greatly to my vision and the overall success of some of my work. Particularly using the original surfaces of the wood/metal as the background. I would be hard pressed to recreate the natural patina of some of these objects. I would say it’s pretty common to see repurposed objects and materials in traditional folk art from many different cultures. Some of which are more utilitarian but I imagine it was also about utilizing materials that were easily accessible. Over the last few years I have unearthed tons of treasures on the countryside, which have later turned into paintings. The hunt for materials and discovering ways to use them has become a very vital part of my process. That being said I still crave painting on a freshly built wood panel, especially when I am wanting to work a bit larger.
HM: Your paintings seem to utilize some common totemic themes, for example the bird creatures. Can you elaborate a bit on your imagery mythology?
ALB: Most of the symbolism in my work is a fairly subconscious hodgepodge of imagery borrowed from the different cultures that inspire me. The bird head specifically was a way of separating myself from the main subject in the painting. It’s stepping away from a more self-portrait approach. I put plenty of myself into my work but it’s not really intended to be a literal reflection of myself.
HM: I’ve heard you talk about color interaction, particularly with pastel flavors. Color preferences though, especially from what the fashion seasons tell us, ha, seems to oscillate in popularity. Have you been visually married to the same set of colors for a long time? Do you see your personal preferences for colors changing?
ALB: I am partially color-blind so it’s kind of important for me to continue with what I know works. Certain hues blend when I see them and it can be hard for me to tell the difference. A good example would be light pink and white which can almost look identical to me depending on the surface. I still go through phases and get hooked on different color combos. I will always be a sucker for terracotta, seafoam green and marigold.
HM: You went to school in SF at the SFAI. How much influence have the Mission School artists had on your own work? Was that a big draw for you when deciding where you wanted to study?
ALB: I will never forget sheepishly approaching Barry McGee back in 99 at the Hoss opening in Houston, TX. I brought him my sketchbook full of weak imitations of his work. He just smiled flipping through some pages and found a blank page to sign my book. I have always been deeply influenced by Barry and Margaret Kilgallen from the moment I stumbled upon the Mission School movement. It was only natural that I run to SF the first chance I got. I spent some time at SFAI and lingered around the city long after attending school. I met a handful of locals who showed me sides of the city that probably look like a different world nowadays. The years I spent in the bay area influenced my direction greatly and inspired me in too many ways to count. It was truly a magical time when everything started feeling possible.
HM: Your old work, circa 2007, was an order of magnitude more abstract and expressive, the tight, flat illustrative renderings of your work of today is a real departure. Was this a gradual move, or did you simply wake up one day and say, ‘Nope, time to paint flat, tight work instead’?
ALB: I think the departure came when my painting skill started to catch up with my creative vision. The more expressive approach was a way of going through the motions and fine tuning some of the imagery I still use today. I achieve the ultimate meditative experience by creating a simple and concise image filled with all the colors I love. The process itself can sometimes be more important to me than the final product.
HM: What’s a dream art project for you, if money, time and scale was no nuisance?
ALB: I would like to use some of the experiences from our building process and erect some small structures for site specific installation. Think Pee Wee’s Playhouse with creepy bird head pals.
HM: Thanks for the interview my friend. I’m really really really looking forward to the Miracle Worker exhibition.
ALB: Oh you’re welcome man. Thank you!
Check out more of Adrian’s work here: adrianlandonbrooks.com
Follow the dude on instagram: @adrianlandonbrooks