Thinkspace is proud to present Brian Mashburn‘s latest body of work ‘Axiom’ in our project room. Mashburn, an Ashville-based artist, creates detailed oils painting of smoky landscapes where nature finds it way to prevail amongst a desolate industrialized world. In anticipation of Mashburn’s upcoming exhibition with us, we have an exclusive interview with Brian Mashburn to discuss his creative process, a day in the studio, and a perfect day in Asheville.
SH: What was the inspiration behind this latest body of work?
BM: For the most part it’s in response to our ongoing political situation and various other social and environmental concerns.
SH: The mountains seem to be more looming and ominous compared to past work, is this a progression or our projection?
BM: Maybe a little of both. I’m pretty fond of traditional Chinese landscape painting, earlier works from the Song and Yuan dynasties in particular. Some of the recent thematic and compositional cues have certainly come from that influence, which includes more prominent mountains. Personally, I don’t see them as necessarily ominous or looming but I understand how they could read as such. For me, the mountains represent either an ideal place or state of mind or serve as an anchor for the composition providing stability and/or depth to the picture.
SH: How do you challenge yourself to grow and evolve as an artist?
BM: I try to stay engaged and curious, earnest and when possible not cynical. I do my best to educate myself on a wide variety of topics both technically and conceptually tangential to my work.
SH: What is your creative process? How much does the outside world influence your work and voice?
BM: Quite a bit, there is a ubiquity about the news these days that is sort of unavoidable and painting can be a good way to process things, a kind of catharsis for sure. For example, the painting called “Great Leap Forward” began as a response to Trump’s proposed border wall and other antics from this administration. It got me thinking about examples from history in which a brutish solution failed to address a nuanced problem. The historic Great Leap Forward was Mao Zedong’s campaign to force China from an agrarian economy to an industrial one. A particularly insidious part was the mandate to kill all Eurasian tree sparrows and rats in China in an effort to boost grain production for export. I guess the thinking was the fewer grain-eating sparrows there were the larger the harvest and subsequent export business would be. The plan failed but not before creating an ecological catastrophe that greatly exacerbated the Great Chinese Famine. Scattered throughout the painting are several references to Mao’s rise to power and looking on are 3 tree sparrows and a rat.
SH: Can you walk us through what a day in the studio looks like?
BM: I wake up around 6 or 7 most days then have my coffee and read until 8 or 9. The rest of the morning I try and focus on the things that are either more difficult or less appealing, things that I will dread doing until I get them out of the way. The afternoon usually finds me down some rabbit hole either in a painting or doing research. I’ll take an occasional break to play with the dog or go for a walk. I try and finish up around 8.
SH: What do you enjoy doing when not painting? What would be a perfect day in Asheville?
BM: I like to hike. I also watch birds. Asheville is a great town for both. There is a scenic route called the Blue Ridge Parkway nearby, it’s sort of like our version of the PCH. It closes in the winter whenever there is snow or ice. On those days I try and get up to the parkway early in the morning and walk the closed road. Those are pretty ideal days in Asheville.
SH: If you were to collaborate with any artists dead or alive, who would it be and why?
BM: It would be cool to work on a mural with Thomas Hart Benton, I think our approaches would be similar and I would learn a great deal.
SH: What excites you about other artists work?
BM: That’s hard to say, I appreciate nuance, integrity, and technical proficiency but those things may or may not generate excitement. There is something about the immediacy of visual art that produces a sensory experience separate from critical thinking.
SH: Are you a binge-watcher/listener? If so, what’s been your latest addition?
BM: Yes, I listen to podcasts and audiobooks compulsively. I binged S-Town twice the first week it came out and recently ran across The Atlantic’s feed on Soundcloud. Recent audiobooks include Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari, Them by Jon Ronson, and The Better Angels of our Nature by Steven Pinker.
SH: If your work was translated into a cocktail what would it be made out of and taste like?
BM: Bourbon, neat.