A cornucopia of native wildlife. Courtney Brims is an artist who wholly celebrates personal connections to nature, especially within the Australian landscape. She goes beyond the mere surface, exposing the intimate, mysterious aspects of the hidden world that is usually relegated to the periphery. Her illustrations are reminiscent of a magical realist dream, a place where imagination takes precedence within the backdrop of the real world. We only need to look at Courtney’s work to become reconnected with our child-like mind, the one that finds beauty and playfulness in the everyday that surrounds us. Her subjects are often new sorts of creatures: cats with tails of flowers and insects as petals.
Courtney also depicts the reality of the natural cycle to the point where everything becomes physically and spiritually entwined within her work. Through this, she explores a sort of animalistic vanitas; wherein birds perch on bones and mice live in skulls. In this way, Courtney is able to simultaneously contrast the energy of peak life against the stagnation of the end. To me, Courtney embodies a very special sort of meditation within her artistry – a freedom to be curious. Her artworks can be very surprising. I challenge any reader to find the hidden motifs within her detailed drawings. Her mastery of camouflage is akin to Mother Nature’s own talent.
Ultimately, Courtney Brims is one of those rare artists who can create new perspectives, and who inspires us to look beyond and beyond until we ourselves are reborn. It’s more than a call to nature; it’s a call to becoming.
‘Birds, trees, soil, mammals, beetles, flowers…they’re all connected and if one suffers they all suffer.’ – Courtney Brims
Read my interview with Courtney Brims to glean a little bit of her magic for yourself:
Firstly, I’d like to congratulate you on one of your latest shows: the ‘My Neighbor Hayao’ Honolulu exhibition, a group art show tribute to the legendary Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki. Talk us through your beautiful piece, “Boh and Yubaba’s Bird”.
Thank you! I really loved how it turned out. Spoke Gallery’s shows are always such a joy to be a part of. It was actually quite a stressful process trying to decide which of his characters to settle on because it’s Miyazaki and everything he creates is magical. I had roughly 5 different concepts going on in my head but ended up going with Boh and Yubaba’s familiar because I love the transformation those two characters go through. I chose to portray the characters as the native Japanese Dwarf Flying Squirrel and the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. And lots of Konpeito candy!
A little about Courtney…
You grew up in Brisbane, Australia. What role, if any, has this environment had in shaping the successful artist you have become?
It definitely had a big impact on me. I grew up on acreage on the outskirts of Brisbane where I had a pet cow and both a pony farm and strawberry farm up the road. It was pretty idyllic! Growing up out of town you couldn’t walk to the shops or ride your bike down the road so I’d spend most of my time outside exploring or making art or watching ‘Labyrinth’.
Both of my parents played a huge role in encouraging my creativity too. My mum has a background in art and my Dad’s background is science so it was this perfect balance for me, growing up with a curiosity about how the world is and how I want to see the world.
Let’s talk theory…
Your older artworks seem to take inspiration from a variety of lullabies and fairy tales, from Little Bo Beep to Little Red Riding Hood, is this still the case with your more recent naturalistic work. If not, where do you find new inspiration?
Those themes are still relevant to me and my work but I think over the years my work has slowly evolved to become something that feels more personal to my own life and environment. I want the viewer to see how beautiful and strange nature can be and also how easily it can be lost.
Identity, beauty, death, deception… these concepts will always be something that I want to explore in my work.
Your latest artworks, especially those with animalistic subjects, are extremely realistic. Have the techniques of Natural History Illustration inspired the way you approach capturing the landscape of Australian flora and fauna?
Yes definitely! I’m a sucker for natural history and botanical illustration books, especially the work of The Scott sisters and Pierre-Joseph Redouté.
On this note, some of your artworks also contain a unique fusion of flora and fauna, like birds with flowered feathers and mice with tails of gumnuts. Describe the relationship you are depicting within these works.
That it’s all connected! Simplistic but I’m not one for overcomplicating themes in my work. Birds, trees, soil, mammals, beetles, flowers…they’re all connected and if one suffers they all suffer.
An important thing for me is making sure I depict the natural world as intelligent and not simply something that is pretty or cute. I think a lot of people dismiss nature as something inferior to humans, forgetting the lengths animals and plants go to survive on this planet. Mutualism, parasitism, symbiosis, adaptation are all relationships and processes I love playing around with.
Do you have a muse? I’ve heard you have a cat (a necessary question from a fellow cat owner feeder and scratching post).
Haha, I’ve never thought of Dolly as a muse but look, to be honest, she probably is. Working from home, she’s always attached to me, sitting next to me when I work, sleeping on my work, knocking my pencils off the desk and breaking them, and eating my erasers… so on some level, she’s very much a part of the process.
Can you describe your studio life? Do you have any rituals when you work?
Working from home, I try to be as disciplined as I can but it’s still a work in progress. There are distractions everywhere so I usually start the day with an attempt at meditating. Even if it’s only a half-arsed two minutes of sitting and listening to the screaming lorikeets outside, it’s enough to calm down the racing thoughts and get into the right mindset.
When I draw, I tend to stick with podcasts these days as music is far too distracting. Sometimes I don’t even pay attention to what they’re talking about, it’s just hearing people’s voices. Working by yourself can be incredibly isolating and you start paying too much attention to your own thoughts so it’s nice to have conversations in the background to break out of that bubble.
Your main tool of trade seems to be pencil and paper. Do you experiment with any other forms?
I’m itching to transition into gouache and watercolour but it’s tricky to find the time to experiment. I think a part of me is also a bit scared of branching out of my comfort zone and it being a disaster, but I’m learning to not be so precious and to let go of the control and see where it takes me.
Author Note: I don’t think anything Courtney Brims does could possibly be a disaster and I’m sure you think this too. Change is always welcome here!
Over time, your style has developed from mostly monochromatic tones to the brilliant use of luminous notes, has anything prompted this plunge into colour?
When I was starting out, colour intimidated me. I think I knew I wasn’t quite ready, skill-wise, to tackle it and needed to give myself some time to understand how colours behave.
Monochrome was more straightforward and not as overwhelming and I was able to give myself that time to develop my style and skill in a medium that was a bit simpler to grasp. I loved the simplicity and boldness of graphite but over the years I really started to crave colour and as I became more confident it slowly built up in my drawings. I think it also reflected on the subject matter of my works too. As I started drawing more naturalistic scenes, especially the native Australian works, it made sense to show them in all their colourful glory.
We want to know about the future…
What’s next for the artist Courtney Brims?
I’m currently working on a very exciting project but it’s still in early stages so I can’t spill any details yet, unfortunately. I’m also working on some new pieces for a show in the United States later in the year that will feature Native American flora and fauna. It will be a bit of a break from my Australian native works and it’s been wonderful getting to know the diversity of species that live in that part of the world.