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Episode 38
Brian Alfred - Artist, Podcaster and Author of "Why I Make Art: Contemporary Artists' Stories About Life and Work"

  • 2 min read

Episode Description

Artist, podcaster and author Brian Alfred discusses his new book "Why I Make Art: Contemporary Artists' Stories About Life and Work" which is inspired by more than 300 episodes of his podcast "Sound & Vision". Brian also has an exhibition of new paintings opening this week at Mile McEnery in New York. Brian shares insights about the new book, his new paintings and what makes him tick.



Craig: [00:00:09] This is Art Sense, a podcast focused on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On this week's episode, I speak to artist, podcaster and author Brian Alfred. Brian's releasing a new book titled "Why I Make Art: Contemporary Artist Stories about Life and Work", which is inspired by more than 300 episodes of his podcast, "Sound and Vision". Brian also has an exhibition of new paintings opening this week at Miles McEnery in New York. We discuss the new book, his new paintings, and try to get to the heart of what makes him tick. And now my conversation about a wide variety of things with Brian Alfred.

Craig: [00:01:01] Brian Alfred, I really appreciate you being willing to come on the podcast to talk about your new book, "Why I Make Art: Contemporary Artist Stories about Life and Work". And you also have a show coming up soon at Miles McHenry Gallery. But you know you're an artist, a podcaster and educator, now an author. And I guess, you know, really the the book kind of goes hand in hand with the podcast, right? So how would you describe the two?

Brian: [00:01:30] So the podcast is just, you know, my goal with that and the mission of it, which I don't even know when I started, if there was really a mission. But you know what the mission became was basically to provide conversations with, you know, fellow artists that weren't scripted or were very laid back, almost like a studio visit. Because the podcast that I was listening to while driving to teach, I wanted long ones and I wanted them to be sort of laid back conversations, or those are the ones that I responded to. So people just be asking like actors and musicians, and I didn't feel like there was much in the art realm of that. So, you know, I wanted to kind of create that. I guess,
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Craig: [00:02:13] You know, I guess I started listening to sound and vision, probably around 2017. But when did when did it start? Was it like 2015? 2014?

Brian: [00:02:24] Yeah, I think it was '16. My memory is real bad, but I think it was 2016. But the thing is is I started, I quote unquote started it, you know, like a year. And I think it was about a year and a half, maybe a little more before I actually released it. So in the sense that I was, you know, learning how to do it and doing research and, you know, talking to friends about recording. And luckily, I had some, you know, music and recording experience in my life. So I had a touchstone for that. But you know, I wanted to do it right. And so I I basically took a while to get it going, you know, and then so once it actually released, I think it was April twenty sixteen, if I'm not mistaken. And then they just kept going from there,

Craig: [00:03:08] Your conversations, there always seem to be a Brooklyn sort of focus in terms of where the artists were working out of. Did you start with just personal relationships and just start kind of working out from there?

Brian: [00:03:21] Definitely. I felt like, you know, if I can talk to people I know or have a history with at the beginning that will create a sort of, you know, a little bit of a relaxed entry point then jumping right into like a quote unquote interview with someone. I have no idea who you know with, you know, Jasper Johns or something. I think I'd be a little kind of uptight. So and that wasn't what I was going for. I was going for the studio visit vibe.

Craig: [00:03:47] Right

Brian: [00:03:48] So, yeah, I started asking friends, and I was lucky enough to have been working at that point for like over 17 years in the art world and knew a lot of people so. You know, I had some some guests who came on who people know their work, and I think that kind of, you know, that helped start the process, I think.

Craig: [00:04:05] I know when I first started podcasting, it was like I couldn't get enough of content like yours, and I think that kind of motivated me to go out and start creating my own content. I mean, it was that kind of part of the motivation was that you felt like the conversations you wanted to hear just weren't getting enough.

Brian: [00:04:23] Yeah, 100%. It was, you know, I didn't realize it. Explicitly until I started listening to a lot of podcasts, and I think that got like I got into a groove of the kind that I like, which were these longer conversations that were, you know, you know, famous people talking about like what they eat for breakfast or whatever, you know, or what they were listening to on the way to set or comedians talking about where they eat dinner after their shows. Stuff like that. And I the more I listened to those and thought about it, I was like, You never really get to hear artists speak, or at least I wasn't aware of, outside studio visits of hearing them just be normal human beings. You know, every time they're interviewed, it's like this formal, you know? So what are you using in that painting and that part of the sculpture? You know that stuff. So I kind of wanted to show the human side of artists.

Craig: [00:05:17] When you look back and obviously you have looked back to put this book together, what are some of the common themes where you see maybe how all of this wide variety of artists are similar and maybe some examples where they're drastically different?

Brian: [00:05:36] Yeah, you know, in the beginning, I think I was fishing in a way of like, there must be this thread that pulls it all together. And I think a little bit of that at the beginning was the framework of a lot of artists, you know, grow up drawing as a kid or getting into, you know, being creative. And at some point there was like a light bulb went off or someone said, Hey, you're good at that. And they were like, OK, I'm going to do this. And, you know, an art school is a big structure thing where people go to study and I thought, well, there's this thread that maybe I could pull that together. But then I was surprised, too, that there's a lot of people who worked outside of that framework, and it was a lot of diversity in, you know, what drew people to make work. But the themes are all kind of resonate. You know, it's all kind of I think it feeds. It feeds people in some way, shape or form. I guess everyone does something that they want to do, you know, to feed themselves, feed something inside of them. So I think it kind of micro macro to it became, you know, there were tons of similarities. And then at the same time, there was a lot of diversity, too. So I like that fact because I feel like anyone, any art student listening in their studio can listen to it and they'll hear an artist where they're like, Oh, OK, that's that's what I'm doing, and that's how I feel. Sure. And it worked for them. So you know that I think is valuable.

Craig: [00:07:02] Do you have your students in mind when you're when you're asking people questions and just, you know, you know, your style is really conversational, but do you ever kind of consciously think this, this is info that my students would really benefit from?

Brian: [00:07:21] I think that's become more. I've become more conscious of that as years go on. And then, you know, my students listen, a lot of them listen to the podcast or I even get messages from other art students or younger artists through DMs or emails or whatever that maybe it's a little more conscious in my head. I think I'm generally a curious person and I want to know about people and what makes them tick and how they got to, where they got both in their work and what they're doing and in their mind. And, you know. And it's just sort of snowballed in that sense, I think now. I definitely will mine a little bit more, maybe where I would go. You know, a little deeper than the surface, just because I feel like there might be a nugget like a truth nugget in there that be really good for people to hear.

Craig: [00:08:10] Who are those podcasts that you really enjoy? Is it like Marc Maron or...

Brian: [00:08:17] Oh, I listen to all, all kinds of you know? I listen to a lot of different podcasts, but I don't necessarily. Listen. Well, I guess there's a few that I listen to, I would say religiously, but you know, I mean, like the one that I listened to the most often, most religiously is "Men in Blazers" because I'm a huge soccer fan and I'm curious. I want to note they're hilarious. They're super intelligent, and I just want to hear about how they break down each week's matches, you know? And and I yeah. So and then then I listen to, you know, rich roll and I'll listen to, you know, Marc Maron or Pete Holmes or The Daily Show or, you know, like my friend Hrishi does Song Exploder, which I love, which is a totally different kind of podcast. I listen to, you know, Serial and that first series was amazing, you know, and. Yeah, so I listen to quite a few and, you know, I probably try maybe unconsciously take some from all those anyone, you know, asking questions. Same kind of thing with art. You know, I'll look at everything. And I make work. And I don't think that everything I look at necessarily enters my work directly. But it all kind of informs a sensibility unconsciously, you know?

Craig: [00:09:42] I've always loved the studio visit aspect of your conversations. And I mean, it's just they seem so natural. You know, I think one of the things that I would love for you to kind of reflect on is, you know, I know during the pandemic it was hard for these conversations to actually take place in the studio. I mean, have you thought about comparing and contrasting the benefits of those conversations actually taking place face to face in the workspace versus remotely?

Brian: [00:10:13] Yeah, definitely. I think, you know, when I was doing, I would say what? 95-98% of them in person, whether it's at a gallery where the show is or, you know, I felt that that face to face because I was talking to them about personal things. You know, it's ironic because I think the studio visit the quote-unquote studio, visit talk. I think a lot of people would perceive that as like, Oh, well, you're there around the art talking about the art. A lot of times when I go to someone's studio and I'm talking to them, we don't talk about the art necessarily that much we're talking about. Oh, like, what did you do today where, you know, it's just a sort of day to day stuff? And I think that what happened when I had to move into the Zoom realm of doing podcasts, I. Maybe at that point, I've been doing it long enough that I had confidence with it, but I realized that it's really the person that I'm trying to get to. You know, in their story, so you can do that, you know, it's nice being face to face because there's just there's a different kind of physicality to the conversation, but. You know, it's not necessarily about being in someone's studio because of the art. It's more about being near them and feeling their presence in that sense. But I feel like. I don't think it's dropped off as far as, you know, the connection that I've made with people, but maybe people are just getting more used to being, you know, in Zooms or being online, you know?

Craig: [00:11:39] You know, you mentioned earlier about how much you love the long format podcast because of your commute. How long is that commute, Brian? Because you know, you live in one state and work in another?

Brian: [00:11:52] Yeah, it's just under four hours. If I'm aggressive, if I take my time, it's like four and a half hours or something.

Craig: [00:12:01] So I've always been curious what your week looks like because the four and a half hour commute sounds interesting, right? I mean, like to I mean, do you have an apartment? You know where you you spend the night and like, how does your week play out? Because I've always been curious about that.

Brian: [00:12:20] Yeah, I can break it down for you. It's I'm on sabbatical this year, though I might. 

Craig: [00:12:24] Great! 

Brian: [00:12:25] That has been really nice because having two solo shows and doing a book, it's it's the perfect time for it, to be honest. So I'm not making the commute. I haven't been making it since and COVID happened, so I haven't been to Pennsylvania in years, which is weird. I mean, what is time after COVID? But normally what happens is I teach Tuesday and Thursday and occasionally a Wednesday night class if it's a seminar or Tuesday night. But what I do is I wake up really early, really early and leave the city at like four or five a.m. and beat the traffic. And then I get to Penn State and then I'll stay two nights and I stay at like an old timey hotel that I work a deal out where I just get a room for two nights each week. And although when I was in New Haven, a lot of my professors did that, they just stayed at a hotel next to the art school and, you know, they didn't drop anchor and like, live in an apartment there. So that's what I do. I just I mean, I'm originally from Pennsylvania, so I feel very confident. I went to Penn State as an undergrad, so I feel comfortable with that. But yeah, I stayed two nights and then after my class, I hopped in the car and drove home. I love driving, I should say that. And I spent a long time being in a band, going on tour, you know, and driving like like really drive that's driving that when you drive across the country. And I've done that countless times, you know, driving to Penn State feels like nothing. It's like two long podcasts. I'm there,

Craig: [00:13:53] But you're not still driving a white panel van, right?

Brian: [00:13:59] That's true. Yeah, we we only had a conversion van for that last tour. We did it pretty raw. You know, we had like a pickup truck and another car that we did. But yeah, no, I'm driving, you know, a regular car with air conditioning.

Craig: [00:14:14] So the podcast "Sound and Vision" and so the the vision part is the visual art, the sound, my impression is that in the beginning, maybe you had an idea that you would alternate between musicians and visual artists. And I know it's kind of come around and you always ask people what's playing in in the studio. But he kind of tell me what you know about that, that side of your vision for the podcast.

Brian: [00:14:42] Yeah, you know, I guess when I thought of doing it, I felt like I'm going to talk to a lot of artists. But I would also talk to musicians as well because I have a lot of friends who are musicians and and a lot of friends who are artists who play music. And I've had a long history of playing music, and it's been a big part of my life, so I wanted to leave that aspect of it available and not just, you know, quote unquote fine artists or so, you know, I've had sprinkling of musicians in, you know, throughout the the episodes. And I've also talked to a lot of artists who do mess around and play music or, you know, we'll jam on the slide or have jade or whatever it is. But usually artists have a relationship to music, and musicians always have a relation to art because they do cover art. And they, you know, a lot of them have visuals for shows and all that stuff. So, you know, I just it's it's, I guess, selfish in a way. I just wanted to have that option open. The other side of it real quick is that when I critique or when I'm teaching, I often bring up music as a parallel for thinking about critique or thinking about it, about expression, because I feel like it's a great, almost like, completely different, but very similar. Way of of sort of expressing yourself, you know, and a lot of times I feel like music can ease the critique or it can ease an artist into thinking like, Oh, OK, I see, like, that's a that's a nice sort of like parallel discussion of tones like colors. Or I do that a lot with music. So I think that it's just it's a natural habitat for me to place music in the context of talking about art, almost probably to a fault or annoyance. When I ask people what their paintings or sculptures sound like or what are they listening to, you know, I'm just really interested in that.

Craig: [00:16:33] Ok, so I want to know more about that. I mean, do you actually have them critique a Kanye song or is it just like or you do kind of give them a frame of reference? Or is it just in terms of speaking in terms of metaphors, you know, using musical metaphors in terms of the language?

Brian: [00:16:54] It's probably a little bit of all that, but mostly I think, you know, if you look a lot of the discussion about art is couched in art history and what came before it, and you know, why is this relevant to what came before it and why are we making this now or what does this mean? Like, it's that, you know, the language of visual information as seen through the, you know, the sieve of the past. And it's part of the language. And with music, I think the linearity of music or where it comes from and the connections to it sometimes are a little more raw and direct. You know, like if you hear like Daft Punk, you can think, OK, disco, funk, soul, R&B, and that comes from blues. And like, there's a pretty straight lineage there that you can see. So often I'll do that where I'll bring up like a connection between how music has progressed or the way creativity is progressed through influence and music, and then maybe draw that as a parallel, you know? And then sometimes it's about expressiveness, you know, like. Something like a minimal like, you know, EDM track versus Ornette Coleman's free jazz with two drummers playing like, you know, at the same time in chaos. I think if you bring that into a discussion about chaos and control and painting, it can be an interesting way to sort of think about it differently other than just, you know, Jackson Pollock versus, you know, Agnes Martin.

Craig: [00:18:18] When you laid out your book, did you lay it out kind of topically where where things overlapped in these conversations? Or is it kind of going from extract to extract from some of the best of moments?

Brian: [00:18:36] Yeah, you know, what happened was I had when I first started, you know, the idea of maybe having a book or this podcast existing in another realm where people could who don't listen to podcasts can still engage in the content. I had an idea that it was just going to be these, you know, excerpts like all these excerpts from the conversations that are just, you know, a lot of the great ones that I felt like were great conversations, maybe the whole thing and then maybe just snippets of things related to theme and then, you know, working with the publisher and talking to friends and like thinking through the ideas, it kind of morphed because that would just be basically, you know, a transcription of the podcast, which I don't think would be the most interesting thing to sit there and read. So we've actually had, you know, a few writers write sort of like pieces about the artists that, you know, we selected 30 artists who, you know, we feel was a diverse cast of people who make amazing work. And, you know, there's these written pieces about that use quotes from the podcast and sort of flesh out the story of these people.

Brian: [00:19:47] And you know, I wrote a sort of piece at the beginning talking about how the podcast came to be, what it means to me, the intention, you know, the sort of significance of it. And then there's these sort of written pieces on the 30 artists, and then there's the sort of quotes or, you know, snippets based on theme, whether it's music or art school, because there's like there's little great nuggets in these conversations. Just like I love the idea of, you know, just having a quote from, you know, Chris Martin about, you know, Miles Davis or something or seeing Basquiat and then someone else talking about how critiques sucked at art school or something, you know, like, it's kind of a fun thing to just delve into. And it's I think I drifted away from it being like a documentation of the podcast necessarily and more of an extension of, you know, the artist in that I've talked to and fleshing it out more.

Craig: [00:20:42] Brian, I thought it might be fun if we play a word association game. It's sort of a Brian Alfred drinking game.

Brian: [00:20:51] Sure. I haven't done that in a while.

Craig: [00:20:51] Kind of a bingo. A big a bingo card of of Brian Alfred terms. And so, well, maybe I could throw some things at you. What about blue collar work ethic?

Brian: [00:21:03] So you want me to just basically.

Craig: [00:21:06] Sure. What is that?

Brian: [00:21:07] Respond.

Craig: [00:21:08] Yeah, respond.

Brian: [00:21:09] That's my dad. My dad was a hard working guy, and I think that really rubbed off on me and and informed my life because he worked double shifts and drove a truck. And you know, that was that's my whole life. It's just like, you know, blue collar working hard. And I think that's, you know, woven into me. So I'm sure when I talk to other people, there's that touchstone, just like I feel like Pittsburgh is like that, you know? Yeah, it's part of me.

Craig: [00:21:37] Sure. Well, that was that was another square on the bingo card. But let me ask you just to follow up on that. I mean, that's ingrained in you, right? So how do you see it manifesting itself in your work

Brian: [00:21:52] In the sense that I just can't stop working? Like, I find, I think unconsciously, I just I'm motivated to work hard at stuff because that was what I saw. And my mother too worked like crazy. So, you know, it's what I was around and there wasn't there was just an honesty in it. I think it wasn't about like getting rich or trying to make a lot of money because we certainly weren't there. It was just about, you know, you just got to work hard. And that was like when I played soccer, it was like, you know, my dad always taught me, just just do it, you know? And when I changed from being a medical student at University of Pittsburgh to an art major at Penn State, you know, my parents were basically like, It doesn't matter what you do, just work one hundred and fifty percent of it, you know, so I think that it's just kind of like ingrained, you know, and it makes to this day, maybe to a fault. I just can't take a break.

Craig: [00:22:48] All right. So blue collar, Pittsburgh...Warhol.

Brian: [00:22:52] Yeah, you know, I was watching the past couple of nights. I've been watching that new documentary and which has been great in talking to friends over social media about it. You know, people sending me messages. And, you know, I don't know. It's it's a weird it's kind of like, I don't know how to divorce myself from my feelings and familiarity with Warhol coming from Pittsburgh because he was so prevalent in an early age. Like, I always saw Warhol stuff. But I do think knowing what I have reading the books that I've read and going to the museum and you know, and investing a lot of sort of like my interest in Warhol, I do think that the general population art viewing population has a certain perception of him that was just surface. And he, you know, he there was a lot going on there that he kind of, you know, hid away from in his personality and his sort of self-consciousness. And, you know, and he was really conscious of everything and extremely intelligent. And obviously, no one who makes work after Warhol doesn't have Warhol in the work in some way, shape or form. So I mean, I'm a fan.

Craig: [00:24:00] Yeah. So how does how does Warhol show up in your work?

Brian: [00:24:04] Pretty directly, I think. I mean, I I think both Warhol, the sensibility of maybe here's the most direct way Warhol had this adage of like, I'm not that interesting. Like, it's not about me, it's about the work. So it was kind of like holding a mirror to society and a lot of times, you know, popular culture. And I don't think I'm interesting necessarily, but I I want to show viewers how I'm looking at the world that what I find interesting about the places around us and the people around us. So I think that's like a very similar sort of mindset, you know, and those early paintings like those, you know, the dancing drawing like schematics and the typewriter that's unfinished with the pencil on it and some of those early Warhol paintings really burned into my my visual mind. And and, you know, the suicide paintings in the car crash paintings, those always like, hit pretty hard, you know, and when I think of Warhol, flowers don't pop up. And, you know, Elvis doesn't pop up. It's those disaster series, you know, or the his paintings and stuff like that that I really think are where he let the grit in or empire, which I think is one of the most amazing, you know? Meditations on urban life and in visuals, it's just I think that stuff really, you know, burned into my visual mind.

Craig: [00:25:33] You know, it's always curious to to wonder how much of his public persona was performance art right by people. I think a lot of people, you know on the periphery kind of think that's who Andy Warhol was, but you know, I really wonder who he was when he was Andrew Wahala living with his mom in some apartment, right?

Brian: [00:25:56] Yeah, definitely. And and if you look at his early work and his drawings and what he was doing when he first moved to the city and, you know, you could see his hand in there and you knew that his mother did like the the text things. I mean, there was a real bond there. And the quote unquote performance art of it, I feel like, was more about him hiding his self-consciousness or what he was, you know, about things that he felt uncomfortable about himself. So it wasn't so much that he was trying to be, you know, like, I'm going to be this, you know, this person. It was more of like wearing a mask, you know, to protect his insecurities, seemingly.

Craig: [00:26:34] All right, so we've got blue collar, Warhol, Pittsburgh. What about Skowhegan?

Brian: [00:26:38] Skowhegan, that was Skowhegan, for me, was the perfect thing at the perfect time because I just came out of two years of grad school, which were, you know, hyper rigorous, very competitive, you know, tense atmosphere. And then next thing you know, you're like out in the farthest studio threw a cow pasture making work. And no one's there, really. And I have all the time in the world and people who came in were, quote unquote, teachers. They were just like, you know, fellow participants. And it was a real laid back kind of communal vibe. And my work was able to go through a huge transition there over just nine weeks. So it was pretty amazing and I didn't go into the lake and everyone teased me about it, but they all got duck itch whenever they were in there. And so that taught me a lesson to stick to your guns. If you don't want to do something, don't fold to the peer pressure.

Craig: [00:27:33] That's awesome. So did did you make relationships there that you you kind of, you know, because it's it's sort of a summer camp sort of vibe, right?

Brian: [00:27:43] Yeah, there's there's other terminology that went along with what happens at Skowhegan. But yeah, it was real. It felt very, you know, summer summer of love. No one's around, you know what I mean? Like, you're you were back then we were off the grid. I mean, there was one computer in the the office area that was had internet, which was like, dial up. And it was, you know, these are this is 1999, so it wasn't like it was, you know? Blowing up yet, so it was you were really off the grid, right? And, you know, things could get wild. Yeah, it was fun. It was, you know, and people were cool and I have very close friends out of that experience. It was, you know, I met maybe even more so than graduate school. You know, I met a core group of people there that I still am tight with today.

Craig: [00:28:32] Have you had some of them on the podcast?

Brian: [00:28:34] I have, yes. Although I haven't been back to Skowhegan, they've never asked me back.

Craig: [00:28:39] You know, maybe it's because you didn't go into the lake.

Brian: [00:28:42] That's true. I didn't. I didn't drink the punch, so to speak. That's true. That's probably like a scarlet letter on me forever. I didn't even go into the lake. No. But yeah, there was some amazing, I mean, you know, known artists who went there and there were some really funny stories about that place. But that's for another podcast.

Craig: [00:29:01] Right, exactly. All right. So, all right. So blue collar, Warhol, Pittsburgh, Skowhegan. What about Thelonious Monk.

Brian: [00:29:09] Thelonious Monk? Well, I was I became conscious of Thelonious Monk, I think, in high school when I would listen in Pittsburgh, when I would listen to the jazz station there, which was, Oh God, I can't remember the name of it. But yeah, and I remember hearing Thelonious Monk and the name and seeing his image and being intrigued. And then when I was at Penn State, I was a jazz DJ at the radio station there. And I think that's when I dug in deep to all the blue note stuff. And of course, Monk was on it. But the real monk hit for me was when I saw the first time the video of him playing, which was like, just amazing. He was so idiosyncratic and just did his own thing. And, you know, it was kind of magic, you know, I think he entered my brain at the same time that Sun Ra entered the other side of my brain, and it was just one of those mind blowing, kind of like creative experiences.

Craig: [00:30:08] You know, you obviously love jazz, but your music took techno, right? So I mean, is it are you 50% jazz and 50% techno?

Brian: [00:30:18] No, not at all. I'm like one hundred percent everything. Pretty much to be honest. I mean, I listen to you name it. I mean, I'm just I listen to just as much reggaeton as I do jazz or, you know, electronic music. And I listen to classical and I listen to East Asian music. I listen to, you know, all sorts of stuff. I'm kind of. A music fiend like I like to take it in in any shape or form. I mean, I listen. I have a son, you know, so I'm listening to a lot of, you know, it's kind of cool, like I'm listening to a lot of like new hip hop or rap that I used to, you know, I grew up on my childhood friend who lived a couple of blocks from me. He and his cousin would bring tapes of like Houdini and, you know, Kool G Rap. And like all these like old, you know, the beginnings of rap music, you know, and I got into it back then. And then, you know, so maybe I haven't listened to quite as much new stuff. But you know, a friend of mine, Evan, who's in a band called Rat A Tat, does a lot of producing for, you know, he did some songs on the Kanye record, the new one. And my son loves those tracks and he's like, "Oh, this is your friend who did this". It's just kind of a funny, you know, kind of connecting of of generations or something. That's it's been fun. But yeah, I listen to all of it. I listen to bluegrass, ragtime, you name it.

Craig: [00:31:49] And, you know, I don't think that's uncommon for for artists because there's so much time spent alone in a quiet studio that you want to fill it up and you can only listen to the same track so many times before you want to move on to something else, right?

Brian: [00:32:05] Yeah, you know, it's funny. There's some artists to who dig music and listen to a lot of it, and then there's a lot of them who get myopic about it, which surprises me. You know, like, like a good friend of mine Chie Fueki, who I did a podcast with recently, but I've known her since graduate school. She would talk about how she would listen to one song when she's making a show and like, put it on a loop and could because they want that consistency. So there's artists who do that too. And then there's even an artists. You don't listen to music, which I don't understand. But sure, there's, you know, different strokes for different folks. But yeah, there's there's some people who go deep and some people who are pretty limited in it.

Craig: [00:32:46] Ok, so I felt like I've heard some artists talk about how they have to carefully curate what that playlist is because it can wind up reflecting itself in their work.

Brian: [00:32:58] Sure.

Craig: [00:32:59] What do you think about that?

Brian: [00:33:01] I get it. I mean, there's days where I need that, you know what I mean? Like, if I'm working on something repetitive, I might want something repetitive. Or if there's a certain esthetic that I'm painting, you know, I want to match it. And then there's other days when I could care less. I can listen to, you know, I don't know, Snoop Dogg and be painting flowers. It doesn't. Not that Snoop doesn't like flowers, but you know what I'm saying, like, it doesn't always have to lock

Craig: [00:33:23] I understand he especially loves flower buds.

Brian: [00:33:27] And that's true, that's true. He does like organic growth.

Craig: [00:33:32] So, all right, so we have a few more left here. What about The Pit?

Brian: [00:33:38] What's The Pit? You mean, like in graduate school?

Craig: [00:33:40] That's right

Brian: [00:33:40] The was, you know what I learned in the pit. I learned a couple of things that. I learned that slaughters are best seen from above from like one. That's why the Gladiator, I think those old gladiator arenas like the people sat a little higher up. It's a little safer to be up there while. But the massacre is going now. I'm just kidding.

Craig: [00:34:06] It's like being in the front row at a Gallagher concert, right?

Brian: [00:34:10] Yeah, exactly. It's better to be in the balcony. Let's be honest. No, the pit was, you know, that building was really amazing, I think, and brutal in the same time. And the one thing that I learned outside of the little kind of like, you know, amazing comments that faculty would make and the people would talk about the work is I really understood that at that point when I was in school that a lot of the talk about the work where the faculty sort of battling out their own ideologies, which in the beginning you think, Well, that's B.S., why does it have to be about them and how they feel about what they feel? But then later on, you will understand that that's actually really great to hear because you're you're like a fly on the wall while other people are hashing out their interpretations of imagery. And then you understand that different people have different viewpoint on things and they bring a different kind of a toolbox, a visual toolbox to what they're doing. So I think that, you know. It seems kind of like rough at first, and then you kind of find the value in it, I think, in the long run. And it wasn't as bad as people, you know, in hindsight, we dramatize all that stuff, although there was some not by me, but there were tears shed and there were people, I think who phoned it in or, you know, cashed out after them.

Craig: [00:35:29] So how how bad was yours? How how brutal was it for you personally when you went through it?

Brian: [00:35:36] Oh, I was fine with it. I mean, I had a dad who would always give me the business and be tough on me. So this was nothing. But I do remember a lot of people just not liking my work, which was kind of tough. But then I had a few people who championed it or who thought it was, you know, productive what I was working on. So maybe just cling on to the good things and didn't focus in on the bad.

Craig: [00:36:01] So, you know, I have a really good idea of what your work looks like now. Did...were you making similar work at that point?

Brian: [00:36:08] Not at all. Abstract. Abstract like environments that were based off of fractal numerical grids that I drew out on pencil, on the canvas before I started painting. On top of it

Craig: [00:36:20] Kind of sounds like Terry Winter's

Brian: [00:36:22] More like Julie Mehretu meets like math early Matthew Ritchie. Maybe it was sort of math. I took a class on fractals.

Craig: [00:36:30] Again, that sounds like a lot of work.

Brian: [00:36:34] Well, that was the point. The point was. Is and blue collar will tie this all together. The point was is you may not get this or it may look look like futuristic, and this may not jibe with your sort of traditional view of what art should be. But you can't deny that I didn't work my ass off on it. That was what the no grids were all born out of. It was like hard work. Like I wrote, you know, one to one thousand or two thousand or five thousand on the painting before I started. So you can't say that it's not, you know, hard work. Then I went to Skowhegan and I was like, this is a matter that was a defense mechanism. So I just painted trees.

Craig: [00:37:14] All right. All right. One last one, Japan.

Brian: [00:37:17] Yeah. I mean, it's like half of my life in a way. I mean, you know. You know, my wife has was born in Japan, and she moved here when she was like six or seven, I think it was six years old. And so our extended family are there and the culture has been in my, you know, direct family for, you know, over 20 years. And I've shown there for a long time. And I I love, you know, even. When I was younger, I loved Yukio and Japanese prints, and I've always been drawn to that esthetic. And yeah, it's a big part of my life, you know? And I, you know, we entertained the idea of moving there eventually when I get older.

Craig: [00:38:03] You just have to figure out whether your son wants to take care of you there or in the U.S., right?

Brian: [00:38:09] Well, taken care of medically, I think it's going to be a much better situation in Japan here, health care is a little rough. Right? Health care but yes, that's well, that's hopeful to think that don't even want to. Yeah, I have a feeling he's just going to go do his own thing, right? You know, boys, my wife always says that like boys, like girls, they come back home, they take care of their family. Boys just go do the thing, right?

Craig: [00:38:34] That's funny. So you say you have two shows coming up this year, is that right?

Brian: [00:38:39] Oh, during the teaching year. So in this past fall, I had a solo show in Japan. Speaking of which, at Maho Kubota in Japan, which was I couldn't go to it, but it was a great show. I mean, it, you know, it was a great experience of sending that work there and working on it. But yeah, so this is the second in that sense.

Craig: [00:38:56] Sure. And so what can we expect from the show that's coming up? Is it is it more more of the same or is is it branching out in any new ways?

Brian: [00:39:08] I think my work is the way I felt about. What I'm doing in it and change like the idea of change is that it's always kind of microscopic, like I'm always making small changes. I'm not. It's kind of like the Van Gogh like if you look at a retrospective of Van Gogh and you look at the first painting in the last painting, they're so different. But as you walk through and look at all the paintings, there's not like huge jumps or anything wacky. And I think that's the way that I make changes or that I'm responding to the world. So I'm just whatever I'm interested in that time. I think of ways to paint that and how I might tweak the paintings to fit what I'm painting. So this work is all it's called escape plan. It's all loosely related on, you know, living through a pandemic and being shut in, but at the same time, sort of like fantasizing about being in other places as well. So it's a mixture of imagery that's, you know, plain as day, like a COVID testing parking lot or a Pfizer building. And then there's stuff like, you know, Niagara Falls or a flower field or, you know, mountains with like the sun and trees. So it's it's this combination of the reality and the sort of like idyllic escape from that reality. And then so the title is a play on that. It's a play of like, you know, we all wanted to escape our apartments during lockdown. But and then there's the reality of an escape plan of thinking of doomsday, like what happens if this gets really bad? And my work's always had that duality. So I think it kind of locked in.

Craig: [00:40:42] So for for somebody who isn't familiar with your work. How do you, you know, a lot of times when I have artists on the podcast, I usually start with asking them, "If you show up at a dinner party and you're seated next to somebody who has no idea of what your work looks like, how do you describe it to them?"

Brian: [00:40:59] That's always so hard, right? It's like, what's your music sound like? It's blues, and I, you boil it down to representational imagery that's like semi flat, but then there's some texture to it and it's kind of architecturally built up. Like there's like layers that I build up almost like a collage. And, you know, and I'm inspired everything from like, you know, you know, Japanese prints to pop paintings to, you know, on the Warner Brothers cartoons to, you know, growing up in Pittsburgh. And yeah, it's hard to it's hard to verbalize, you know what it's like.

Craig: [00:41:39] And so, you know, and I think I've heard you talk about this before, and that is given the internet of images and how we consume images, how people have a mis, a misconception about your work when they see it on their screen because of the flat esthetic, they just can't see what the work looks like in person in terms of the built up layers and texture. And it's like it's like having only seen a Mondrian, you know, online and never seeing a Mondrian in person. Right? 

Brian: [00:42:18] Right. Yeah, you don't see all those little cracks and the little edges and stuff. Yeah. Yeah, that's always been there. That's even before the internet, if anything, the internet may. Like it maybe exasperates it because so much is shared online and you're not seeing as much in person, but at the same time, you can get details, you can get Zoom in. We're back in the day like a Mondrian. You're either going to the museum and seeing it or you're seeing like a picture and, you know, nineteen sixty seven art in America, black and white reproduction. You can't see anything off that either. So, you know, I remember the first time I went to the National Gallery and saw the the Barnett Newman stations of the cross at the top, and I was like, Holy shit, like this is. I didn't think it looked like this in person, you know, and even quote unquote flat stuff, you know, like John Wesley paintings, you could see the hand in there or, you know, or Warhol screen prints like there's a lot of there's a lot of like stuff in there that you just you got to see art in person. You know, it's it's not listen to.

Craig: [00:43:18] I mean especially...

Brian: [00:43:18] Go ahead.

Craig: [00:43:18] Sorry. No, I was going to say, I mean, I just think about Rothko, right? You know, all those color field painters, right? I mean, part of the experience is being close enough to the work that it overwhelms you. Right?

Brian: [00:43:32] Definitely, yeah. And that was the point I was going to make is like going to see a live show like if you go see, you know, Nirvana, you're feeling the chords in your body, like it's just overwhelming you, you know, and if you listen to it on like your iPhone, it's not going to have the same. I mean, you still can get what it's getting at, but it's not the same visceral experience. You know, it's like going to see a play and then going see seeing a play done on TV. They both work in a way, but they're totally different

Craig: [00:44:03] Artistic influences. I mean, is it all over the place? I mean, I mean, I see some Alex Katz in your work. Is that a fair assumption that there's an influence there?

Brian: [00:44:14] Alex Katz, I think came. I mean, I love Alex Katz's work. I never really look at his work like, you know, there's stuff I look at in the studio like as I'm working. You know what I mean?

Craig: [00:44:27] Like what?

Brian: [00:44:28] And I don't I don't think Alex Katz is really there. I mean, it would be anything from. You know, like Alan Dark Angelo to, you know, Agnes Martin, I look a lot like a pallet and I look at a lot of sculpture video stuff too. But but yeah, I mean, as far as like what I'm doing, like Sheeler and, you know, Warhol and I look at a lot of Japanese prints like and in this other genre called Dinga, which is like paintings of beautiful women, it translates to, but it's like they're painted. It's not, you know, just woodblock. And I look at a lot of that stuff, and then I'm looking to at a lot of like like imagery like posters and popular culture imagery and, you know, graphic design, all that stuff. I think it all kind of seeps in, but I'm just as equally like, I love abstraction. Sure. And when I look at abstraction, I look at it for the painting quality, and I'm looking at the sort of the sonics of the way that like those strokes sound and the the feeling that it's giving you. And I think that's just as much an influence on the way that I'm making a painting, you know what I mean than than a painting that looks kind of like my painting?

Craig: [00:45:47] Sure.

Brian: [00:45:47] You know, I'm saying?

Craig: [00:45:48] Yeah, I do. And so your work, there's like this printmaking sort of methodology in terms of having to choose. I feel like you choose a narrow palette to represent an environment that is full of infinite colors, right? And so how do you how do you feel like that palette has relates to the harmonics or the sonics that you're referring to? How do you go about making those those choices? Because I mean, it's a very conscious what narrow range you're going to work within, right?

Brian: [00:46:29] Right. I'll give you. This is a good sort of musical parallel example of how I would draw a comparison to that. So I feel like color in my life. Using color in my images has always been like a feel thing. I know it's it's it's influenced by where I grew up and the palette around me. Like, I think if I grew up in Brazil, I'd have a different color sense and palette than if I grew up in Pittsburgh. So I think the color is intuitive and it's influenced by my unconscious growing up and when I was around. And so I think it becomes a feel thing and I use it purposefully and a lot of different ways, like there will be some things that, like one of the paintings in the show coming up is, you know, a COVID parking lot and there's orange cones and they're fluorescent orange. And that's just like a factual use of color that's supposed to signify that caution or manmade things. So, you know, but but just like you said, there's this huge spectrum you can choose from with color, like how do you get to where you get what's kind of a feel thing? It's kind of the vibe that you're trying to get across. And it does relate to, you know, your imagery, but it's not defined by that. And I think that's the same thing.

Brian: [00:47:35] Like if you pick up a guitar, if you're a guitar player, you know, there's so many sounds you can get out of a guitar, so many amps and guitars you could use. How do you fall on a Les Paul with like a fender amp? You know, and it's like a feel thing. It's like how you want that tone to sound, and it's hard to define exactly what the feel is, you know, but you kind of navigate towards a feel and the tone that you feel is yours, you know, like Grant Green, the, you know, the jazz guitarist. I remember reading a book about him, and his son was saying that to get his tone, he turned all his bass down and his treble down and turn his mid all the way up. And that was his tone, which is like a completely random way to get a specific tone. But it just to him that was the field that he wanted, you know, and I think we do that or some of us do that when we're working with a palette, you know, you go, it's this combination of feel comfort and then pushing that and using things, you know, explicitly. But it's it's all kind of like serving the final thing you want to get across, which is almost impossible to define or to verbalize. But it's like a feel

Craig: [00:48:42] What's the size of the pieces these days? I mean, are they? Does it range?

Brian: [00:48:47] Yeah. Like the show I had in Japan was a lot of I think the biggest one was like four by five foot, maybe, and a lot of them were in the sixteen to twenty four inch range like smaller work and just in Japan, it just works better there. It's hard to have huge. The gallery's not as big, the places aren't as big, it just works to have smaller things. The biggest painting in the show, coming up as a triptych, that's ginormous. I mean, it's like, I don't know, it's probably 18 feet long or wide and like eight feet high or something, so it's pretty big. So they range the the work in the show coming up is mostly in the five to seven foot range like bigger paintings, and then there's a few smaller ones too.

Craig: [00:49:33] So I know in the past you've you've made an animation to accompany shows it. Did you create an animation for this one?

Brian: [00:49:42] Yeah, yeah. There's the animation that I'm going to show in. This one is called La Trance, and I worked on it with my friend Ben, who I collaborate with Ben Redoubts. He's a motion graphics guy in LA that we've collaborated for a long time since my second show in New York. So, you know, almost 20 years. And we did a an animation based off like depopulated photographs he took from Los Angeles during COVID. So we would go out and take all these images of, you know, everything from Mulholland to rodeo to, you know, the Strip and like all these places that are just vacated. And it was after a rainstorm, which is also weird for L.A. So there's puddles everywhere, and the soundtrack is by four Tet. It's a song called La Trance that we used for, you know, we reached out and we thought that would be a great track to use for the animation, and he agreed to it. So it's kind of like a music video for that song as well. And yeah, so that is the animation for the show that, you know, there's a couple of paintings in the show that are stills like they're stills from that animation.

Craig: [00:50:51] So I've I've seen your work on like Sedition. Have you thought about releasing any of those animations as NFTs yet, or have you already done that?

Brian: [00:51:02] You know, I did early on in the process, I made sort of like I minted a bunch of NFTs just because I was interested in it as a new medium and it was exploring it. I've never really promoted it or tried necessarily to sell them, or I was just interested in how it operates in that landscape. But to be honest, it was kind of like the way I use social media. I just kind of like, dump them there and then leave and go work on, do other stuff. I think the the hype of it has become, you know, a thing. I think the idea of it is it's an interesting thing, but a lot of times the hype gets, you know, it kind of kills a little bit of it in a way as far as like the spirit of it.

Craig: [00:51:48] Brian, I really appreciate your time this morning. If folks wanted to keep an eye on you and your work, where's the best place for them to check out?

Brian: [00:51:57] I'm ready. I'm ready to pitch it. I'm ready to give it. It's so funny because, you know, at the end of my podcast, I always tell the artists like where they were, can they find your work? And they're always like, Oh yeah, you know, little taken aback, but I'm so used to that. Ok, so @alfredstudios, my Instagram, and that's where I'm the most, you know, active and @soundandvisionpodcast is where the podcast is, all the fliers and info for the podcast star. And you know, I have a website at And the thing that I would love for people to check out is this book, which is for the reason like I want. I think people will really like the stories in here, and the artists are amazing. So and a lot of you know, I mean, we're doing a podcast. Some people aren't into broadcast, but even if you do listen to it all the time, this is a different thing. There's images. There's even like I had a guest book where people would like do sketches after each podcast when I did them in person. So we included some pages of those, which is kind of fun. You know, it's like these funky, like little funny drawings that people have done. But the book is available through all Atelier Editions. They're the publisher, and you can find it on our website or on the Sound and Vision podcast website. There's a link to the book where it can be preordered, and it's coming up pretty soon. I think the end of May is when the scheduled release of it is, but it's available, you know, Barnes and Noble, Amazon and all the other places too cool. It's kind of good if you can get it through the publisher, just more direct that way.

Craig: [00:53:27] So you just search for Brian Alfred, "why I make art" and everything kind of falls into place, right?

Brian: [00:53:32] There you go. Yeah.

Craig: [00:53:34] Awesome. So let me ask you back in the old days, you had a site "paintchanger". What was the what was the story behind?

Brian: [00:53:41] "Paint changer". I know, right? That's so weird? So when I was in grad school, I took a computer class in the lab and basically the part of the task of it was to create a website. And this is how, you know, I'm getting older. You know, it was like, make a website. And back then it was like GeoCities, right? So you would just like it. And it was no like I learned HTML. So I had to like type this stuff out. So it's pretty basic. But the idea was I took a photos of a painting, one of those fractal paintings that I was doing and I took it in stages. So every other day I would take a photo and then I made a website and the paint. The painting changed each time you clicked on it when you were on the website. And so I called the website, we had to come up with the title and it wasn't going to be at that point. It was GeoCities pain changer or something, and that's how the name came. And then I made an email account and it just became that was, you know, the moniker for a while or not a moniker. But it was just something I used for a while. And then I remember maybe a couple of years ago, my wife saying to me, it's like the pain teacher thing is a little like, Can't you just use your name? And I was like, No. Some tax company in England took my name there, called Brian Alfred, and so I can't use that. And then I looked and dot net was available, so I just took that.

Craig: [00:54:56] Well, at least, you know, if if you ever want to get into your career change, you can go into tax consulting, right?

Brian: [00:55:02] Not only that, they sponsor a rugby team like a professional rugby team. So there's a rugby team. I forget what what team it is, but there's a team that has Brian Alford on their chest and they're out there destroying each other, playing rugby, which is really weird for me. That's awesome. There's no there's no Brian Alfred's up there. Like Alfred is a very rare last name. There's a lot of Alfords, but there's only a handful of Alfred. So there's no there's like one other Brian Alfred out there that I know of.

Craig: [00:55:32] That's crazy. Well, Brian, I really appreciate your time and your you're being so gracious as to answer all my my questions and playing the Brian Alfred Bingo card and, you know, stream of consciousness there. But being a big fan of your podcast for years, I've probably listened to somewhere between 150-200 of the episodes. And, you know, love your work and it's a real pleasure having you on today, man.

Brian: [00:56:02] Thanks so much. It was my pleasure. And you know, it's nice to to to not prepare and just talk, you know, and not just, you know, have questions asked to me. So I really appreciate that part of it. And thanks for listening to the podcast. It's, you know, it's always cool when I hear that people actually like it, you know, I just do them and throw them in cyberspace. And you know, it's cool when people, you know, dig into it and enjoy it, see?

Speaker1: [00:56:32] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art Sense. You can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rates show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. If you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read a transcript and find other bonus features. You can go to and click on the podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at, thanks for listening.

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