Updated: Apr 20, 2020
Brian Wooden is one of my favorite artists not only because his work is super rad, but because he utilizes so many different styles so beautifully. When I first started following Wooden’s work, he was doing these large scale black and gray paintings or bodies or busts on unstretched canvas. Soft images emerging from a pile of loose brush strokes, these images popped right off of the surface especially when he’d add streaks of gold that burst right though the image. But diving into his work some more, I found his more illustrative, graffiti style work and his work that blended his representational work and his illustrative work. All three styles were so elegant and could stand alone while still totally fitting in with his portfolio and touch. So many artists get popular doing one style and when they go into something else it comes off cheesey or just fails completely, but time and time again Wooden has shown his talent and ability in all of the styles he employs. Whether it’s a cleanly displayed wall piece, a loose hanging canvas, or a painting directly on the wall, his work always has incredible pop.
Wooden’s recent show “Lxxse” was a real deep dive back into his illustrative roots and it looked to be an incredible experience. I was thrilled to talk to Wooden about his work, the show's recent success, his various stylings, and what’s to come. He gave a great interview that reveals a lot about what goes into each series or style of work for him. Enjoy!
1. I always open with the way back background. So what got you started in art? Any schooling? Big inspirations? What helped shape you into the artist that you are today?
I started drawing before I can really remember. It was just one of those things where maybe someone compliments you in the right way at the right time and next thing you know, you’re “the art kid”. I was a nerdy little guy and kept watching cartoons after a lot of my friends grew out of it, so things like Ren & Stimpy, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Spongebob were big influences. I wanted to be an animator for a long time. At the same time I was taking art classes and learning how to render images from a more classical perspective.
2. Your imagery seems to be heavily focused around the human form, the objects humans closely interact with, and even past artistic representations of the human form (i.e. Greek/Roman sculptures). So I'm curious to know what got you started down the path of your figurative work and how you decide what imagery you use. Do you stumble upon inspiration and dive right into your process or is your imagery heavily curated?
I was always really into classical sculpture. There's a stoic quality that’s so opposite of the over exaggeration in animation. I love the ambiguity in a lot of the forms as well; often they were depicting images of what they considered beauty projected onto human forms rather than a specific person. There is a safety in that for me. As I get to know myself more, I’m getting better at staying away from stoicism and ambiguity.
3. You implore a lot of painting styles, mediums, and techniques in your work; how do you manage/control the shifts in medium or style in your work? Do you start work loosely and refine from there or do you bounce around from space to space?
I try not to approach pieces from the same technique too often. I find myself rushing through it when it’s too familiar. I’m trying to be better about slowing down and soaking in the process more. I can be very impatient.
4. Going further off of that, you seem to work in series so how do you navigate from series to series, style to style? What's the process like in creating a new series? And once you've gotten started on something do you dive right into the fullest and then move on to the next? Or do you bounce around several projects at once?
A series will come about just from stumbling onto something that I really like stylistically. Some sort of visual consistency that becomes the vehicles for expression. Then you start to think about everything in terms of that style, and the more stoked on the style, the more stoked you are on everything. If a style isn’t genuine or doesn’t flow, it makes the world seem more difficult to navigate. The more truth to your style the more it flows. I’m really trying to focus (or not focus) on flow.
5. As well as several mediums and styles, you also work atop several different surfaces, so how does a difference or change in surface alter your approach to creating a work? Do you find that certain elements of your work lie best on certain surfaces or is it all versatile? Siting one surface specifically, what got you started in painting the large, unstretched canvases? And what is the process like working with those?
I started painting on big drop cloths because I wanted to work large and could afford huge canvases and didn’t want to have to go out late at night all the time to paint walls. Some surfaces are much more pleasant to paint on than others. Obviously smooth and flat is nice,but shitty surfaces can look really cool sometimes.
6. Is there a difference in approach when working on a mural or something that's going to have a heavy interaction with the public? Does this alter your process at all?
The problem with public art is that someone usually owns the space you’re painting, so they typically want specific things. Some of those people are great and let you do your thing, but there are always the ones who really want their input heavily involved. It’s like the people who go into a tattoo shop like “I want a tiger morphing into a clock wearing my moms wedding dress and I just want it to have meaning...” and they end up with a shitty tattoo. The best art comes from trusting the artist, so when someone has a lot of money invested or a big wall attached to their business, it’s harder to trust someone else with it which is understandable.
7. You seem to have a very interesting relationship with color, lack of color, and how those two interact with one another? So how do you decide what colors will splash into a black and white piece? What do the colors mean to your more illustrative pieces? Is there a narrative meaning to your color use or is it primarily aesthetic? Or does that vary?
My battle with color is a long one. I often eliminate it for long periods of time so I can ease it back in to try and understand it better. Focusing on the individual colors and what vibe you get from them. I tend to over analyze those things so I’m trying to think less about it and feel it more. One at a time.
8. You've also got an illustrative/graffiti inspired side to your work that stands on its own and that you marvelously weave into your representational work. How do you manage this push and pull between illustrative and representational? Do you find that your more illustrative work lends better to certain surfaces?
Illustrative stuff is really where my heart is. It’s fun to make something look very real sometimes but being able to use lines and color to create your own reality from scratch is very freeing and fun. It flows for me more.
9. Going off of this, your recent interactive exhibition "Lxxse" seemed to very much be a break from your own work. How did this project come about? Was it refreshing to take a break from certain avenues of your work to explore others? Now that you've Lxxsened up, what's next?
“LXXSE” was the opposite of a break. I spent more energy on that most things I've ever done. It was a big step forward for me in terms of creating things I wanted to create and not get lost in what sells or what other people want to see. The whole idea of “looseness” comes from relaxing into myself and relinquishing the stress and tension that comes along with trying to cram yourself into an expectation. Being able to build a full skate ramp in a gallery was a dream come true also. I hope to have more shows like this in the future and build on the feeling that fueled it.
10 Finally, PLUGS! Where can people find your work? Any shows/events coming up? Anything and everything you'd like to share, fire away!
I mostly use Instagram to update consistently. That’s @brianwooden.
There is also brianwooden.com but I suck at updating that. Nobody uses real websites anymore right