Brian Porray

5 questions with Brian Porray

Brian and I met at Bemis in the summer of 2012. I was a teetotaling 8-months-pregnant lady, convinced I would have zero fun watching everyone do what artists do best at residencies (umm...drink... shh), while I would grumpily shed salty silent tears into my already sodium laden seltzer. But alas, in walks Brian Porray, an incredible artist and a hilarious new friend who became yet another fantastic addition to an already wonderful cast of characters I would meet in Omaha. I have rarely laughed more, while sober, than I did that summer. Brian is blowing it up lately with a recent spectacular, attention grabbing, exhibition at Western Projects in L.A., as well as several  shows lined up for fall (see list below).

Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day to day world? friends? partners? pets? kids?

I'm currently living in Los Angeles with my partner Kyla and our pug-mix Duncan. We live in the Highland Park neighborhood just northeast of downtown LA, which is a historic area with a significant concentration of creative people. Our dear friend Sarah lives next door, an amazing artist who looks after all of the feral cats in the neighborhood - - anyone who has spent time in Los Angeles knows what a luxury it is to live within walking distance of a friend, so we feel fortunate. Kyla and I share a studio in Downtown LA - right by the river on Sacramento Street. It's in a big warehouse and several other artists have studios in the building, all of whom we admire and consider our friends. It's a good vibe.

What’s an average studio day like? please be as specific as possible. 

An average studio day for me doesn't start until around 11:00 am. I like slow mornings with lots of coffee and a long walk with my dog. I don't sacrifice these things. Commuting to the studio is one of my favorite parts of the day and I try not to take it for granted. We spend so much time driving in LA, I decided  a long time ago to make peace with it and try to find some small kind of magic in the experience. I like to avoid freeways when possible so I typically drive south through Boyle Heights along Soto and connect to Downtown via the double-decker Seventh Street Viaduct - - which, in my opinion, is the most interesting of the LA bridges, both architecturally and politically. 

I spend the first few minutes in the studio going through small mundane preparations - turning on and warming up the lights, getting new water for brushes, putting sharp blades in my cutting tools, laying out paper and fabric, etc. I think these types of things are fairly typical for most of us, and they always feel important. I try to spend the first hour or so in silence, except for the humming of the fan. I like to look at everything without sound. The work always tells me what to do, so if I'm not quiet I can miss things. If I try to paint before I'm paying attention I can really fuck things up.

Once I'm plugged in I start working. I listen to whatever feels right, but only through headphones which help me stay in my own head and dampen distractions. I cut a shitload of paper in the studio and I usually start by thinking in collage first. While I'm pasting the paper to the surface I start thinking in paint. It's a proximity thing. I need to get my hands on the work before I can tell what needs be painted and what needs to be paper. I don't really understand it. The cycle goes on like this for the rest of the day. Most of the time I paint by taping and spraying, but occasionally I will hand paint with a brush - my muscles know what to do better than my brain, and I'm always reminded of this when I start painting by hand. 

I don't keep any reference material in the studio - just books and magazines that I use for collage. I don't take a computer or tablet with me. My phone is there, but I try not to look at it. I work until I don't feel like working anymore, sometimes three hours, sometimes ten. I don't ever try to force anything.


What are you working on now? (what are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)

I'm currently making "portraits" of plants, but they don't really look like plants at all. They look like paintings that have the DNA of a plant. I collect and care for something like 140 different succulents - it's one of my favorite ways to spend my time. Looking after plants is super enlightening - they teach me all kinds of things. I can't fucking believe how amazing they are. It's crazy. I'm hardcore about it - I make logs and records, I measure the soil PH, moisture, light levels, all that stuff. I love them all and try really hard to not fuck anything up.

Anyway, I'm hoping that my new images will somehow approximate or embody my experience of these plants. Paintings that attempt some kind of cellular connection. I don't really have it all figured out yet, but I think there is something fundamental there. I just want to give them their own power and then step out of the way. I've been painting them with the slightest suggestion of eyeballs. Not eyeballs explicitly, just a hint. Maybe eyeballs is the wrong word - I want them to have tunnels that feel like there is something unseen on the other side. Like windows into the interior of the painting. I'm hoping to stand in a room with these new plant paintings all around me, so that I can see them and they can see me too if they choose to look back. I want to feel like I had nothing to do with making them - like I'm looking at something new for the first time, or looking at something that has been there all along. I hope it works - I get excited thinking about it. It's still kind of fuzzy in my mind.

What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?

I just work. I don't stop. Really...I never stop. If something isn't going right, I just cover it up with paper and keep going. I don't punish myself. Everything comes from working. I don't take breaks. I hate taking breaks from painting. 

How do you sustain your creative life? How do you pay the bills or what kinds of jobs have you had in the past?

I just recently transitioned to having the studio be my primary gig, which is exciting, if a bit scary. I still work one or two days a week in the fabrication shop at Art Center, which keeps me from going crazy and spending too much time alone. I've always worked in shops. I've never really wanted to teach but I also don't like working outside of the field with people who don't care about art, so shops are a perfect middle ground for me.  

What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?

Honestly, I don't know. I'm not very good with that sort of thing. It's so hard to give advice because we all have such different paths. Someone told me this once: "The world finds its artists and artists find the world." 

That kind of thinking makes a lot of sense to me.