Studio Visit with Brion Nuda Rosch

Micah Wood visits with Brion Nuda Rosch 

I first met Brion while I was working at Canyon Market in San Francisco. He was shopping for whatever, a delicious deli sandwich perhaps. I sensed an aura immediately. Brion's work resonates with me as one of pure intentions unbound by cultural ties and acknowledging the helping hand that Picasso has given us, but uniquely his own. Our conversation started from the Embarcadero station and ended at the Glen Park station, so to speak. Is Miley Cyrus an artist genius? Does Gumby hold all the answers we are looking for? Can Britney Spears save our souls with her painting?

(MW): I haven't seen your work in person which is unfortunate.

(BNR): I haven’t shown in San Francisco in the last five years, that makes sense. LA and New York, yes. Here, no.

(MW): Maybe we can start off along those lines. Is there a reason for that?

(BNR): Galleries closing. I was showing at Eli Ridgway. He (and Kent) really built my career. I started working with them in 2009. When he closed the gallery in 2013 all my attention shifted towards my gallery in New York and my gallery in LA.

(MW): What is the gallery in New York you were working with?

(BNR): DCKT, which closed last year. They had locations in Chelsea and then later in LES for well over a decade. I’m working with Halsey Mckay in East Hampton. I had a solo show with them over the summer. That was the first time I had shown just paintings, seven in total. I hadn't shown paintings in quite some time. I've always been painting on objects, but never really identified with being a painter. The first paintings I did were outside; I didn’t have a studio, so I painted on walls and did murals when given the opportunity. 

When I first started making art, I insisted “I'm going to be a painter.” I did it all wrong, and I painted with recycled house paint on crappy materials and everything fell apart. Looking around the studio, the objects in the studio began to inspire sculpture and more painting [on objects]. For quite some time the work I exhibited consisted primarily of collages and altered objects, no paintings. About two years ago I began working with pigments and rabbit skin glue. Then mixing paint with different materials, calcium carbonate, to mull hues down, and make everything matte, and I rubbed it into the canvas. When it is rubbed into the the raw canvas it saturates in different ways, a rewarding result. I’m now working with acrylics, pigments, mud, on canvas and / or fired ceramics.

(MW): You mentioned mural work, earlier, is that something that informs your practice?

(BNR): I had a desire [when I was younger] - an ambition, to be up on walls and having work in public space held much of my attention. I was interested in the landscape of the neighborhood and marks that could be made, small or large. Sometime I would just scribble or doodle nonsense or place blank cut pieces of adhesive vinyl over surfaces. The scope and scale allowed for mistakes and I explored a lot when working in this manner.

(MW): That was somewhat of a beginning for you in painting?

(BNR): I was making paintings, and I mean, they were all awful. I was making bad paintings, it was important to start there, with mistakes. I was working on large canvases and rolls of paper, and I would just paint, take a picture, and then keep painting over them. I was just pushing paint around, I mean, I never went to school. So I was just figuring it out. Then going out, having a wall, having 20 by 30 feet - for some reason when I went bigger it made more sense. I feel like I had more successes there. At the time the imagery was naïve. Now its much more calculated, and thought out, after twenty years of doodling. Drawings are easy to understand, and when working on canvas I hope to make the work just as direct and simple. Accessibility is something that is important, while also knowing the work can also be crude, ridiculous and unrecognizable, so maybe I’m way off.

(MW): There is an article on “caricature” that talks about the ways Robert Smithson and Mike Kelley use caricature in their work, and it goes into accessibility, but also having more intellectually charged work as well, catered toward less accessible things.

(BNR): I think it's important to do, or else, it's not that interesting. You do not need an academic background to enjoy the work, however any history the viewer carries will inform or provide the punchline to the joke. 

(MW): When did you get to the Bay Area?

(BNR): I moved here in 1999. It doesn't seem like it has been that long. I came here in my early twenties, and now I have a family, a house in Glen Park, and a job.

(MW): Where are you from originally?

(BNR): Before the Bay Area, I was living in Arizona, I was there for few years. As a kid [before high school] I lived in Chicago and Denver, and then high school in Hamden, I lived off State Street near New Haven. Every couple of years we moved. 

(MW): You said you haven't gone to school for art, which I gathered from a press release of a group show you were recently a part of in Seattle, which included other artists that didn't take a traditional art school route. 

(BNR): It was a survey of self taught artists, a substantial point of reference with some historical context. Honored to take part in it. Some of my heroes were in that show. Self taught vibe. 

(MW): That self taught, how to say, style…

(BNR): It's something I don't identify with, I've been around a fair amount of academic structure, and talk, and language. When I started college, I didn't know what I wanted to do, so I dropped out and the opportunity to go to school passed. 

(MW): Let's talk about the work, you mentioned the word "parameters", there’s a really great lack of parameters that I seem to see in the work here in the studio. 

(BNR): There is actually nothing but rules around us. There’s a balance of total chaos. I can work on these canvases all day long, and never finish them. If I just stop myself, and say, okay, make a figure, two arms, breasts, leg. Now I can get my head around that, and I can go in, and get into that a little bit more. Or make a face with three marks, eyes, nose, mouth. Another painting [here], I'm just isolating forms, and portraiture, simply in a practical and formal way. 

(MW): With the sculpture, things seem to open up, you're not like, saying, I have to use this material.

(BNR): Yeah, I think at that point it’s just about the object or manipulating an object.

(MW): What kinds of materials do you use in your sculpture?

(BNR): These are all ceramics [points to the table] or a combination of ceramic and wood, some just wood. I'm making objects with a bit more control, because I'm actually making them. Before now, I was working with found objects. There was a point where I was visiting various schools to get access to dumpsters at the end of semester, and began using found plaster molds or unfinished sculpture, then I would manipulate them in some way. 

"The Possible" exhibit at BAMFA gave me access to clay and a kiln. There, I could simply explore the material. After I had the ceramics fired, I began rubbing pigments into the fired clay. It was important to duplicate my process of painting on raw canvas. With ceramics, I simply wanted to create surfaces to paint on to. 

 (MW): How much value do you put into a picture of a sculpture over the "objecthood" of the sculpture? Are they two different pieces of work? Are they in the same body of work?

(BNR): Do you mean the collages?

(MW): Yeah

(BNR): The collages are sculpture. Using the image on the book page as armature for building a sculpture – a sculpture I do not have the space or materials to build in my studio. These here [sitting on the desk] - I consider them objects, book pages torn from the binding. Framed, they have an end point, they’re done. Otherwise they are catalogue pages on a table. 

I remove enough of the found image to make the source unclear. Some are very direct, like a Picasso on a Picasso. There is an image over an image. A Picasso over a Picasso, titled 'Infinite Picasso', a clock, hands turning. The framed collage mounted with motor to wall, spinning.

 (MW): Yeah, there does seem to be an element of some kind of humor in the work, could you talk more about that?

(BNR): Yes, there is art humor involved, or the first line to a joke - “so and so walked into a bar,” but there is no punch line. 

(MW): In your work, there seems to be an undeniable relationship with collage, assemblage, found imagery and with color. Do you think you have a color palette that you identify with?

(BNR): Yes, natural pigments, red oxide, burnt sienna, etc… it is limited, I put green into a painting, but then I thought, it was too soon. My palette is another limitation I set for myself. I’ve never had navy blue in my work, or primary yellow, and the two together is pure anxiety, to respond I feel I should make a body of work with noting but the colors. 

When color exists, it can pop out in very small moments, I’ve installed paintings [brown, and white] in a gallery covered floor to ceiling with mustard yellow, or I have painted a hallway bright teal, as a refreshing cleanse for the viewer when coming and going from the exhibition. 

The work first exists in this environment, in the studio, with paint all over the walls, floors, and this water pipe above us, then there’s the gallery desk, the exit sign, the break in the wall, that beam, somewhat inconsistent gallery to gallery, but the same kind of pattern, those are the thoughts that I have while considering how to install work. 

(MW): To paraphrase Martin Kippenberger, "everything must be considered in the exhibition; the posters, the floor, the ceiling, etc.."

(BNR): Walking into an exhibition space, I say to myself, okay, what am I contending with here. All those little small elements, every moment should be considered.

(MW): Outside of art, what are a few good things you've found recently?

(BNR): For me, having a family and being an artist grounded my perception of being an artist and ego. With family you're dealing with something real, that has consequences, and your artwork doesn't have any consequences. Maybe a few horrible paintings. Parenting is amazing and messy all at once. There's nothing about art that can come close to any type of work that you're going to do with your family. I mean, that's it, it makes you work harder, it puts things in perspective. I hope my son recalls "Yeah, my dad had this space where he made these weird things in and there was music, and we would dance and make a mess and sometimes I would hang from his shoulders upside down and paint upside down on a big canvas". 

(MW): Is that what happens?

(BNR): Yes. That is what happens. I have a canvas rolled up, that we have been working on, and I feel like I want to take it out again when he's a little older so we can finish it together. Once you have a child there is no rush, so if him and I work a few things over the next ten years they can only get better.

(MW): Are there are specific people you are looking on at?

(BNR): I've always had my hands in other things, in addition to my practice, if it wasn't a pre-Tumblr blog, or doing exhibits in my house, or doing exhibits elsewhere, there's always been relationships with other artists. I'm seeing a lot of exciting painting, and you can observe all of that in such a direct and immediate way, which I don't know how healthy that is, and I think that there are some things that have been occurring in recent years that might not be that productive in terms of content, but content is so accessible, and I use that as a litmus test sometimes, and I let that play out. And I fuck with it a bit, and manipulate it, if I’m on social media I might as well manipulate it. Blatant exaggerations. I’m a blogspot dropout now on the Instagram…

(MW): It's appropriation, but it is appropriating your own imagery. 

(BNR): Yeah, which is also found imagery, so it goes, in an infinite loop.

(MW): Last question is about Miley Cyrus. On Instagram you had a post where you said you hugged Miley Cyrus, but that never happened, and her lawyers contacted you saying that you can't say that..

(BNR): Yeah, that never happened. I'm not sure exactly how the post went, I delete a lot of them, but it was something along those lines. I saw something that was so ridiculous; I manipulated a version of it, and then probably deleted it. It's funny, I'm giving a talk at CCA where I'm going to begin with: 

“So, that’s how I started making art. I had a bunch of fucking junk and shit, and so instead of letting it be junk and shit, I turned it into something that made me happy. I just sit around and smoke weed anyway, so I might as well sit around, smoke weed, and do something. And this is me doing something. I love it. I mean, I’m up until seven in the morning doing this stuff all the time. They say money can’t buy happiness and it’s totally true. Money can buy you a bunch of shit to glue to a bunch of other shit that will make you happy, but besides that, there’s no more happiness.”

On another note…

I found a Gumby episode. The premise is basically Prickle opens an art crating business, but quickly angers his customers by painting faces on their vases. Things look grim until the local art critic turns up and declares Prickle’s creations a work of genius. Gumby, Prickle turns artist - if there's a cartoon that could be my artist statement that would be it.