Interview with Kyle Bryant for upcoming exhibition ‘Out of Many, One’

Thinkspace is pleased to present ‘Out of Many, One’ from Kyle Bryant.

A graduate from the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Bryant has been perfecting his special brand of what he refers to as “Present Surrealism,” an aesthetic bordering on the edge of a believable reality.

A fine artist focusing on woodcut printmaking, Bryant recently took his oeuvre into a new direction, by adding layering and dimension to his wood-carved works.

In anticipation of ‘Out of Many, One’, our interview with Bryant dives into his artistic orgin story, the symbolism of his birds, and a look into the heart of a hopeless romantic.

For those unfamiliar with your work, can you share a little about your artistic background and how you became connected with Thinkspace Projects? 

I got into art through skateboarding and graffiti. I grew up in a small town in Maine so it wasn’t long before I got caught. The cop who caught me, knew me to be a “good kid” already so he put me on this unofficial probation where I had to take art classes in high school. I’m super grateful for that because art class let me feel like I finally belonged somewhere. 

At 18 I quickly left that town and went to Mass Art in Boston where I studied printmaking and worked as a bike messenger.  After college I focused mostly on woodblock printmaking because I didn’t need equipment for that. I moved to Brooklyn for a short period, lived in a vegan straight edge warehouse that wasn’t zoned for residential and paid my rent by screenprinting posters for hardcore shows.

My story is long and all over the place, but to make it short, I’ve moved 27 times, never really felt home anywhere. I did an artist residency in Berlin, Germany where I really developed my style. Moved back to Maine where my studio was an uninsulated attic. I would sweat on my woodblocks in the summer, and wear gloves and a north face to work in the winter, but I was in the studio every day. 

At one point I met a Portuguese girl and moved to Europe with her. I did a new woodcut print inspired by Barcelona for every month that I was there.

After Barcelona I was really lost and considering where my life was headed. I moved to Rocky Mountains, took a job as a photographer so that I could fulfill my lifelong dream of snowboarding in the Rockies, and then moved to Denver. I hated living in Denver and got caught up in some stuff that wasn’t benefiting me.

Eventually my life fell apart so I bought a 1986 VW Vanagon, built a little art studio / home in it and wandered around the western states of the US. It was when I was living my van that I came up with the idea of stepping away from woodcut prints, and building 3D sculptures using woodcut principles. I created my first 3 sculptures in my van or on park benches and public picnic tables. 

I live in LA now. I had never planned on living in LA, I thought I would hate it here, but within a few days I randomly bumped into 3 artists that I admired, they invited me to hang out with them, and actually knew who I was. There was a strange feeling that this was where I needed to be, so I rented a room and started working. 

About a month into living in LA I tagged Thinkspace on an instagram post and they followed back. That was a win in my book but shortly after that I received a DM from them inviting me to participate in their Scope Miami show. I jumped up in the air, pumping my fist like Michael Jordan hitting a game winner against the Cavaliers in ‘89. I was so siked! Thinkspace had been my career goal for nearly a decade, and I was finally invited in the doors. 

The underlying message from all of this is to not give up, to keep working through all of the challenges that life throws your way. Maybe don’t sacrifice everything all the time like I did, because it’s a huge gamble, but if you want something, do what you need to do and go after it. 

What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work? 

I’ve always been obsessed with birds in places that they don’t belong. There’s something that gives me great joy about a bird flying around in a bus station or airport. One night I had a dream that I was waiting for a plane and was literally a part of the flock. That’s when I decided to do a huge amount of birds.

The project itself has two meanings. On a personal level it’s about growth and development. Like many people in this world, I’ve had my struggles. I ran from those struggles with alcohol as my running mate and eventually became a person I didn’t even recognize. Through getting sober I have learned that what’s important is me, and my mental health. The idea of using many birds to create one image is a metaphor for all of the little things that need to be in place to have a life worth living, to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

The broader meaning for this project is about finding common ground amongst each other in society. Far too often we are divided by our differences. We have all of the little subsets of society fighting with their opposing subset over the little details and they miss the big picture, that we’re all just pawns in this game and actually have very little control over anything. I believe if we put our egos aside, focus on our similarities rather than our differences, we will be able to come together as a human race to solve the problems that face us and future generations. 

Do you have any pre-studio rituals that help you tap into creative flow? 

On awakening I do a quick gratitude check and ask that my higher power direct my thinking throughout the day. As soon as I’m out of bed I drink 16 oz of water with sea salt and lemon juice to restore the minerals I lost the day before. Coffee is the obvious next step in my process, followed by reading for 1-2 hours, meditation, and 30-60 minutes of exercise. After a smoothie I’m at work for the rest of the day and into the night.

I’m a person that has always lacked discipline. Up until recently my understanding of discipline meant punishment and never reward. Through this morning ritual I have learned that discipline means better mental health, a stronger body, and an understanding of personal accountability. 

That being said, if I’m really busy that discipline goes out the window and my morning routine goes from coffee straight to work.

What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part of the creative process? 

My favorite part of the creative process is creating compositions, working with power tools to build the base of my sculptures and carving the wood that I’ve created it with. Carving is a super meditative process for me and it’s a skill that I have developed over 12 years of having a chisel in my hand almost every day. 

My least favorite part is probably painting. For years I worked almost exclusively in black and white, so introducing color was a huge step for me that I’m still getting adjusted to. I’m learning to love the painting process, but I still find it kind of intimidating. 

What was the most challenging piece in this body of work and why?

The most challenging part of this project is the sheer number of birds I have to carve and paint. There was no specific bird that was significantly more difficult than another but when I hit 25 birds I looked at them and thought “well, this isn’t very impressive.” That’s when I decided to add medium and large sized birds. In total there will be about 60 birds that came together to create this entire installation.

I’ve never done anything this big before. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of follow through. 

Is there a symbolic significance to the birds and wings that are heavily featured in your work?  

Growing up I didn’t really have a safe space in my everyday life. My home life as a child was scary and violent. On the weekends that I would go to my grandparents it felt like an oasis, a peaceful place where I wouldn’t be screamed at or hit.

One of my most vivid memories from that time period would be waking up in the morning and going outside with my grandmother to feed the birds. My grandfather and I would sit by the big bay window with the bird book open. We would learn about the migratory patterns of the birds that arrived, marking down the date of any rare bird that came through for some seed. 

Most of the birds I put in my work are super common birds, sparrows, and finches, and I use them because they are the only constant of all the places I’ve lived. I’ve moved 27 times in my life because I’ve never had a feeling of home, or safety and the birds represent that.

Who are some of your creative influences? They do not have to be fine artist, but those whose work has inspired you and impacted you creatively.  

Historically, I like Tiepolo, Durer, Piranessi, Charles Scheeler, Brunilleschi and Caravaggio. 

Contemporary artists that I admire are Tristan Eaton, Alex Yanes, Pose and all of MSK, Michael Reeder, Josh Keyes, Nychos and Sainer of ETAM crew. 

My building of installations comes from Barry Mcgee, Nicola Lopez, and of course, Carlos Amorales’ butterflies. 

Inspiration that fits into the “other” category has definitely got to be rap music. Young Jeezy is always on rotation when I need to be motivated, along with Jay-Z,  50 Cent, T.I. and Nipsey Hussle.  I can always find something interesting in a Italo Calvino book, Eckhartt Tolle helps keep me spiritually grounded, and I find a lot of strength in the fellowship of AA.

It’s an unprecedented time as we’re experiencing a global pandemic. How have you been coping/ navigating life during this time?

To be honest, my life hasn’t really changed all that much. I’ve been self-quarantining since before it was suggested. My life has usually been pretty small, especially when I was still on the sauce, so I pretty much only ever worked on art and stayed in the studio. Perhaps it’s gotten easier for me because now I don’t have the constant feeling that I’m missing out on some fun or important event.

I’m hoping that can change soon though, because I’m ready to have a life outside of work. 

On Instagram you’ve shared you’re a hopeless romantic. If you’re open to sharing, what are three qualities you’d like your dream partner to possess? Or do you have a favorite love story, fiction or non-fiction? 

WHAT?! Who told you that?!! Haha, it’s definitely true.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been in love with love. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I never thought I was deserving of it. Since I quit drinking I’ve figured out how to love myself, which is an amazing new feeling that I hope everyone gets to experience in their lives.

If I had to pick 3 qualities for my future partner…
1. That they were healed from, or at least aware of their traumas.
2. That they were funny and willing to be spontaneous because I’m a somewhat unpredictable air sign.
3. That they care about their health and exercise regularly.

I dunno, that’s a really hard question to answer. I just want to listen to country songs all day and imagine those love stories were mine to tell, so go listen to your local country station for a while. That’s what I’m looking for. 

If your work inspired a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor what would be the ingredients and the name of the pint?

As a hopeless romantic, my flavor would probably be pumpkin spice and Hershey kisses, I’d call it “FALLing In Love”.

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