Interview with Brian “Dovie” Golden for ‘Warning Signs’

Thinkspace is pleased to present ‘Warning Signs,’ from Chicago based visual artist Brian “Dovie” Golden who uses painting and drawing as an introspective tool.

In Dovie’s body of work, he explores the human spirit and experience. His life-like portraits and menacing Fiends find balance amongst bold, angular shapes and arresting colors. 

In anticipation of ‘Warning Signs,’ our interview with Brian “Dovie” Golden discusses the origins of his F(r)iend and Fiend characters, creative influences from Stan Lee to Basquiat, and family in the time of Covid-19.

SH: For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your background?

BDG: I’m a lifelong Chicagoan. I started drawing when I was 6 years old. I looked up to my oldest brother, Carlos, so when he brought home this drawing he did of Leonardo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I wanted to do that and became obsessed with making mine look exactly like his. Over the years, my work has evolved into adding these figures I like to call “f(r)iends” and “fiends” on top of portraits of men and women in a way that visually represents (to me) how it feels to live with anxiety and depression. These characters play a major part in the visualization of these disorders. I like to paint the human experience from my point of view and that experience is dealing with the riddle we call life.

SH: What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work for “Warning Signs”?

BDG: My latest body of work focuses on the “fiends” and the idea of these characters as hazard signs. Imagine if we could see those caution signs (similar to road signs) in the people or those decisions we inevitably regret.  Most of the dangers that surround us are invisible so my current work invites us to consider how we experience the sensation of intuition. What does it look like when we sense danger and deception, and how does this lend us insight into our surroundings and foresight into the road ahead?

SH: What was the most challenging piece in the exhibition and why?

BDG: I actually have two pieces that were personally challenging: perception and untitled.

Perception addresses bias and given the current social climates focus on implicit and explicit biases, this piece felt especially personal because perception is reality, right? I’m aware of how I’m generally perceived in this country as a Black man; my humanity, artistic talent, business acumen and easy-going nature aren’t immediately taken into account simply because I’m Black.  As an artist, I have to reflect the current times. It’s a fucked up time to be in.

Untitled (4 fiends #2) was particularly challenging due to my process in painting it. It’s a four column and I did one at a time to ensure each one was identical. I went through 6 canvases just to get to this one. As simple as it may look, it was probably the most challenging in terms of process. The circuitous route I took to get this one that way I wanted it to be felt akin to how indirect and often unnecessarily complicated most processes are for Black people.

SH: What is your least and most favorite part of the creative process?

BDG: I carry a moleskine with me everywhere I go just in case an idea strikes. Coming back to those sketches and finding ways to bring them to life is probably my most favorite part of the creative process. The ideating and planning and ultimately getting to a place in that sketch that you can visually see the finished painting before you begin is exciting. I love that!

My least favorite and probably the most tedious is outlining. Outlining leaves no room for error and I don’t have the steadiest hands.

SH: Who are some of your creative influences?

BDG: When I was younger it was and still is to a very large degree Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Todd McFarlane. My “Fiends” in some ways were inspired by the Violator and Venom. Today, I’m really influenced by my peers. I’m fortunate to live in a city that’s home to some of the greatest artists I’ve met and have come to know over the years. Max Sansing, James Nelson, Kayla Mahaffey, David Anthony Geary, Harmonia Rosales, Hebru Brantley, Oscar Joyo to name a few but the list goes on and on. Also artists like Erik Jones, Cleon Peterson, George Condo, Kerry James Marshall, Basquiat are huge inspirations.

SH: The F(r)iend and Fiend is seen throughout your work, and you have a great description of these characters on your website. I especially love how you describe the fiend as “the hype man on our ugliest days,” it’s a very accurate depiction of that inner critic. What inspired the characterization of these human truths, was there a catalyst moment? And what practices or tools do you use to put the fiend in check?

BDG: I started sketching these characters around 2012 as a way to help me visualize how I was feeling. They presented a way for me to express how I felt even in those moments when I couldn’t articulate those feelings.  Back then, these characters were never really a focal point of my art. I used them in a way you’d use a diary so I never fully had any intent on showing them to a large audience. In 2016 my wife and I lost our son. His name was Matthew. He was born premature and was only given days to live. We kept our faith and hoped the doctors were wrong in their assessment. We were believing in a miracle. He stayed with us 2 months before passing and I completely shut down. At that point I realized how vulnerable yet numb I was. These characters (fiends) helped me through those feelings of anger, frustration and grief. I saw them as those invisible threats attacking my conscience, faith, hope and happiness and I also saw myself in them. They represent the good and the bad in us all. The F(r)iend represented that symbol of hope I looked for but couldn’t see. They’re the ones looking after us even in those dark days.

My faith helped a lot and trying to understand that what my wife and I went through has a bigger purpose. Part of the practice of keeping them in check is to acknowledge their presence in my life. Once I became honest with that, I was able to better understand what I was going through. And pushing forward no matter what to make Matthew, my wife and all of my children proud.

SH: You have two sons, how do you help them navigate those F(r)iend and Fiend moments in their own lives? Also, do you have two built-in studio assistants, or since you are Dad — is being an artist not cool?

BDG: Three sons. Our newest addition was born last year in March. I am open and vulnerable with them. They see when those moments affect me – the highs and lows. We take time to laugh and cry and just be in those moments and I do my best to take time to explain those moments with them.  They’ve already adapted sketching and drawing when they feel happy or sad. I love having them play a part in my work whether it’s using them in a piece or as studio assistants. They love it too…I hope. Maybe I should ask. lol

SH: How would you describe the power and importance of art / the arts in society to an alien who has just touched down to our planet?

BDG: Art has been the language of the people since the beginning of time. From cave drawings to hieroglyphics, art is that tool to educate, inform and express ourselves.

SH: We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – What is your approach to life during this time? What is your favorite local spot to pick up some take out?

BDG: This pandemic has forced a lot of people to spend time with themselves. Normally we’d try to occupy our time doing recreational things because we felt those made us normal. But who are you when those things are stripped away? I had to ask myself that very question. For me, I dove into studio time, I’m comfortable there. My wife and I have been married for 11 years but it feels like we’re talking and enjoying each other more than ever – I’m fortunate for this. Conversing and playing video games with my boys has been amazing although getting my ass kicked in DBZ fighters is not something I’m proud of and I’m really good! So, my favorite local spot pre and post pandemic is Strings Ramen.

SH: If your work inspired a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor, what would be the ingredients and the name of the pint?

BDG: I love this question. I’d have to say a Yuzu honey sorbet titled “sucker punch”.

Online Schedule of Virtual Events:

Saturday, July 25 at 12:00 noon pacific time we will post the professionally shot video tour of our new exhibitions to our Instagram TV

Saturday, July 25 from 1-2 PM pacific time we will go live on our Instagram to tour our new exhibitions

Sunday, July 26 at 2 pm pacific time we will post a full set of installation photos from both exhibitions to our Facebook and blog

Monday, July 27 at 4 pm pacific time we will share a link to the self-guided virtual tour of our new exhibitions on all of our social networks