Bryon Finn and I met at Yale during the first few days of grad school. I've been enamored with his approach to making ever since; the way he thinks, the various applications he employs to make his dynamic paintings, all the- what ends up in a painting- and-how it gets there... Luckily he shares a lot of those ideas and processes with us below. Enjoy!
Where do you live, where is your studio? Who makes up your day to day world? friends? partners? pets? kids?
I live with my wife and daughter in Kensington – a neighborhood sort of in the center of Brooklyn, NY. We spend quite a bit of time sitting on the front steps or leaning on the fence talking to neighbors. It’s the kind of place that when I look up I can see bagpipes being played or colorful Bengali dresses. There is a horse stable around the corner so you often see a line of horses going by.
My daughter is almost 7 years old and did not fall far from the tree. So we spend a lot of time playing strategy games, figuring out string figures, and singing old hand clap songs.
My studio is in Red Hook, Brooklyn. It’s the neighborhood where “On the Waterfront” is based. I like passing over the bridges and canals to get there. When you’re there, you can hear the seagulls and smell coffee and squid. When I look out my window, I can see the cranes working against the lower Manhattan skyline. I feel sensorially very lucky.
What’s an average studio day like?
I usually get to the studio around 10 in the morning. Then, I make coffee, flip on NPR, and change my clothes. At some point I’ll put on music.
Music is really important to me. I’m a bit of an obsessive collector. Lately I’ve been pulling out all these old mix tapes. I seem to function best with a bit of noise, and the familiarity of the mixes helps me come in and out of focus and nudges my thinking at opportune times.
I usually have 4 or 5 paintings hanging up proper and a number of fragments scattered around that I’m mulling over. I work on plywood and because of the logistics of bracing the work up and that they accrue parts sometimes hung at a distance temporarily with string, tape or written notes on the wall – it’s time consuming to move them around. So paintings can be up from a month to more than a year. I never know which one I’m going to work on and rarely concentrate on more than one a day. So, I clean.
If the surface is dry, I’ll most likely trace or do a rubbing of their current state. If a painting is done, I make diagrams and take measurements, which can lead to a whole new series of drawings, often generating the next set of paintings.
Often when I’m cleaning I get carried away with some peripheral activity. I spend quite a bit of time folding or rolling material up or around the room, sorting scraps of paper and wood, looking around through a hole in something or into mirrors or through gels. All this can trigger hours of making films and drawing. This kind of playful activity becomes really informative and at some point I’ll catch a glimpse of a painting and start painting.
I don’t really keep books in the studio. I do have a few fashion magazines and some print outs of paintings that may currently be on my mind. Of course I have that typical wall with a battery of newspaper clippings, photocopies, etc. I keep a transparency of a Breughel wood cut that I occasionally project across the entire wall.
I try to leave by 5:30. I always take photos at the end of the day. I try not to look stuff up online while at the studio. So, I gather up my notes, usually phrases from science or economic news, song titles or lyrics, and associations I’ve made during the day. I tape some around the studio and bring the rest home to look up at night.
What are you working on now? (What are you most excited about/ confounded by/ obsessed with?)
There have been a few notions floating around the studio lately. They seem subtle but have been productive. One has been acknowledging the difference between “making the work” and making the “conditions” for the work. Another has been moving away from thinking about a picture tectonically and more in the way of “condensation.” A few thoughts that keep running through my mind at different times are, “be spectral,” “be explicit,” and “be atavistic.”
I’ve been working to repurpose all this dislocated documentation that I collect over the course of finishing a painting. I wind up with all these stencils, transparencies, pounce patterns, photocopies, maps, and masking. Often these extrapolations are developed independently and worked back into their source paintings. Sometimes I’ll exchange parts with an adjacent painting. Lately I’ve been weaving separate sets of information derived from the same source but dropping the armature. Other works are developing from overlaying fragments as I mine the boxes upon boxes of scraps I’ve kept. It kind of feels like an exercise in mocking serendipity.
I’m working to expand the methodology I’m using to disorient my drawing and installation process to how I approach color design and light of the painting.
These and so many of my recent moves (from increased carving and relief construction to an interest in reflective and metallic surfaces) relate to wanting to leave a sliver of in-between space – somewhere waiting to be occupied. I feel like I’m working around the picture plane.
This relates to the paintings I’ve been involved with lately: Stuart Davis’ “Combination Concrete,” Manet’s “Boating,” Titian’s “Bacchus & Ariadne,” Poussin’s “Arcadian Shepherds,” and Ingres’ “Madame Moiessier.”
I’ve been thinking about the marble in 15th century Italian paintings. What I’m intrigued by seems really prevalent in annunciation scenes. I’ve also been looking at a lot of camouflage, tattoo flash, and “crypto zoology” blogs.
What do you do when things aren’t going “right” or you’re having a fallow period in making/ thinking?
I sort and inventory.
Sometimes I mess around with another material – especially if it's one I wouldn't normally choose. I’ve made plenty of drawings with bottles of nail polish I found.
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 work as a Scenic Artist for T.V., movies, commercials, music videos, and fashion shoots.
I use a lot of my prior work experience: faux finishing, sign painting, window display, framing and art restoration.
I still get a bit amazed at the choreography of putting together a set on a soundstage. My jobs have also taken me to some amazing locations that I wouldn’t necessarily seek out or have access to on my own -- from the glitzy to the derelict.
What advice would you give a young artist just starting out?
Don’t rehearse misery.
You can see Bryon Finn's work by appointment, until November 16th, in:
a Group Show organized by Chris Joy at Artist House Party Presents - 424 East 83rd Street - 2W - New York, NY 10028. Make an appointment and go! Don't miss it.
and be sure to check out more of Bryon's work on his website: