Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Brian Booth Craig is an incredible sculptor and one of my all time favorites. His craft, control and all around ability with an extremely traditional medium is beyond impressive. Booth Craig is helping to keep the beautiful and challenging medium of figurative bronze sculpture alive while also adding a modern twist. His control and delicacy when molding the human form is awe inspiring, and his technical prowess in casting his clay forms in bronze in multiple pieces and seamlessly welding them together makes the sculptor in me drool.
Booth Craig received a B.A. from Penn State in 1993 but his professional career began as a studio assistant and he didn’t find his current craft or style of work until nearly 10 years later in 2003, when his professional career began. From there he honed his craft over another 10 years and received an M.F.A. from the New York Academy of Art in 2013. He’s shown all over the world and is represented by the Louis K. Meisel Gallery in New York, where he has a coming solo show. He is also a gifted professor, first teaching at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts and now teaching workshops in the U.S. and Italy.
An extremely talented artist and teacher, Brian Booth Craig has a laundry list of accomplishments and successes that is ever growing. I was extremely honored to get to Interview him and hear all about his artistic journey, styles, process, and everything he was willing to tell me. We got to do this interview in a new and fun format, the first part being via text and the second via video chat (video can be found below). He was an excellent interview, giving tremendous insight and information on his work. We’re very excited to release this interview and to work more with Brian in the future (hint hint). For more of Brian’s work and information you can find his website at http://www.brianboothcraig.com/, on Instagram @brianboothcraigsculptor, and right here on Plebeian! Enjoy!
Video At Bottom
1. So first, I'd like to hear about your artistic background, all the way back, what got you into art? How did you begin creating? You've got a B.A. from Penn State and an M.F.A. from the New York Academy, what was your schooling experience like and how did it progress your artistic style?
From a very young age, about five, I knew I was an artist. My mother found a local painter who would give me private drawing lessons in her studio. I did that for a few years, from about age seven to nine. We lived in Europe for a year, and that exposure was formative for me, but primarily it was my mother's encouragement that led the way. She was not an artist, but she could see talent when I was very young, and she sought out opportunities for me to be creative. From age ten to fourteen I took art classes at the Carnegie Museum of Art. I was always drawing, but most of these art class experiences were fairly basic arts and crafts. I didn't have much guidance about how to proceed from there and consequently took a step away from art making for a few years. Once I was in university I decided to return to art making. The program was primarily process based, with no classes in representational art. I had to teach myself at that point. I had enough drawing skill at that point that I could hire models and begin sculpting on my own. So for figuration, I am primarily self-taught. My degree from the NYAA came much later in my career and was primarily intended for the credentials. Most of my studies there were done as a low-residency student, so again, primarily self-directed. (we can fill in lots of gaps in our conversation)
2. What drew you towards traditional figurative sculpture and what were the beginnings of your professional career like?
During my undergraduate years, I was mostly doing non-representational art-making, but during those years I did some figure drawing and found it engaging, and it came naturally to me. I also tried my hand at sculpting from life by doing a portrait of a friend, and this experience confirmed to me that I had a knack for turning my perceptions into form. Without formal training in the subject, I was free to explore the medium as a way to explore a mood, idea, emotional tenor, or psychological state. I wasn't encumbered by traditional 'rules' or specific techniques, so it never became a dry subject for me.
The start of my professional career was working as a studio assistant to Audrey Flack. I did this for over ten years and didn't begin doing my own work until 2003, ten years after getting my bachelors degree. I was immediately picked up by John Pence Gallery in San Francisco and was represented by him until 2013. I also began teaching sculpture at the Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in 2005, and eventually became chair of the department (2010-2016). In 2013 I began to be represented by Louis K Meisel Gallery in NYC, and have been there ever since. The beginnings of my career were obviously slow and protracted due to my lack of formal training in representation, but this perhaps benefitted me later because I developed unique techniques and style due to the autodidactism.
3. I want to talk about process, but not the physical process yet, what goes into the beginnings of your works? Inspirations? How do you decide on a model? Pose? Props? What goes into the beginning steps!
Most of my ideas come from interaction with models or other works of art. Nature and Art tend to intersect in my thoughts through the process of making. I prefer not to let the meaning emerge from the making, so I usually do not know what ideas will emerge until I begin the process of sketching in clay or on paper. Sometimes the inspiration comes quickly, other times it can take weeks or even years. Meanings and ideas organically grow from the object and images, not the other way around. Props, poses, gestures, and attitudes sometimes happen with great immediacy, but in some instances, I have left things on the shelf for years before an idea comes to mind.
4. Now onto the physical process! I've seen you work at several different scales since I've been following you, what goes into your scale?
My preferred scale is life-size, but it is often impractical to begin that way due to the financial constraints imposed by bronze casting. Hald scale seems to be the best scale to give a sense of presence while permitting the quick creation of the work. From there I can enlarge a piece if there is a demand for it. Often the scale is determined by time. If I only have a day or so to work with a model I will usually do something 1/4 scale. That way I can quickly block out an idea that can be developed further at a later date.
5. Working in bronze is definitely no easy task, and you've got some excellent images of your process on your site, but what goes into getting your work from the early clay stages all the way to the end? (Sub-question: welding and buffing as excellently as you do is SUPER hard, so is casting in multiple pieces a choice or just a consequence of scale?)
Bronze casting, like stone carving, is a very specialized skill. When I begin sculpting I already know what the attendant bronze casting difficulties will be. This is just experience. Once I see how the piece will need to be cast I can plan the mold-making and wax casting. MOst things larger than 1/4 scale are cast in multiple pieces, which provides cleaner casts, but consequently requires more fitting and welding. My greatest skills in bronze work are these two areas, simply from experience.
6. You're represented by the Louis K. Meisel gallery in New York, what was your experience in getting this like? Any advice for our younger readers on how to seek representation?
For many years I worked for Audrey Flack, who was represented by Louis K Meisel Gallery. After I had been making and showing my work for many years in other venues, Audrey encouraged Louis and Susan Meisel to have a look at what I was doing. From there it progressed quickly. I didn't really seek it out, so I don't have specific advice about seeking representation. However, I will say that to get representation a young artist must learn to be social in the art world, and develop good relationships with like-minded people. (we can expand on this in conversation)
7. You teach workshops and apprentices, what made you want to pass on your knowledge outside of a traditional schooling sense? Any further goals in your teaching?
Yes, I still teach. Part of what motivates me is simply the desire to continue building a community around myself and offering bits of wisdom to people who are trying to find their way. It is not so much about passing on 'traditional' schooling as it is engaging with people that are hungry to be artists, whatever kind of artist they wish to be. I would like to expand this into doing more apprenticeships and mentoring.