Exclusive Interview with Brian Booth Craig, 2nd Prize Winner of the Yasha Young Projects Sculpture Award, 2022 Beautiful Bizarre Art Prize
When it comes to sculpture, what comes to mind? Is it the sculptures of antiquity adorning marble temples with the faces of the Roman and Greek pantheon? There is a very rich history of sculpture and unlike many forms of art, holds up very well against the effects of time. There is also the terra cotta army of Qin Shi Huang, which is undoubtedly a phenomenal site to see. But maybe when one thinks of sculpture, something more modern like the work of Michelangelo or Donatello comes to mind, as each have a large number of sculptures graces religious sites across Europe. Sculpture has long been a way to physically represent an artist’s ideas in a tangible form. It is work in the third dimension that brings completely new values to appreciate. One artist that does this exceedingly well is Brian Booth Craig.
As Beautiful Bizarre’s second place prize winner of the Yasha Young Projects Sculpture Award, his art is truly something to behold. His pieces, almost exclusively in bronze, feature nude figures almost realistically detailed that stand (or sit) at a life size ratio. His sculptures play on various aspects of human-ness in a way to bring action to stillness. His figures, though frozen in time, speak of oppression, struggle, grace, and chaos. In addition to being an artist, Brian also teaches at his studio and travels the globe for workshops. Beautiful Bizarre set up an interview with the sculptor so without further ado…
I am a big believer in letting the process of moving material around as a means of finding ideas and concepts to pursue. Meaning comes through making, and my process is all about letting the inspiration come to me during that process.
What is your preferred medium to work with and why? What are some of the difficulties with working with that material?
My work is primarily sculpted in plastilina and cast in bronze. I prefer bronze because of the compositional freedom it permits due to its high tensile strength. For example, I can make a large figure supported on only one hand, or just the toes of one foot without additional support. Bronze is very difficult to master, is very time consuming and expensive, but it is extremely durable and will maintain its archival value over time.
You have been sculpting since you were very young. What interested you in sculpture specifically?
I started making art and knew I was an artist when I was just five years old. However, it wasn’t until I was an adult that I tried sculpting. I had an immediate affinity for sculpting. It felt like a very natural way to express myself. Sculpting engages and requires many skills. The complexity and challenge of sculpting appealed to me. It is wide open with material possibilities, and that expansiveness has kept me intrigued.
Tell me about your artistic process. What sort of headspace do you find is the most inspiring for you? Do you have any superstitions regarding new pieces, do you work alone or listen to specific music?
I am a big believer in letting the process of moving material around as a means of finding ideas and concepts to pursue. Meaning comes through making, and my process is all about letting the inspiration come to me during that process. I rarely conceive an idea prior to putting pencil on paper or molding clay with my hands. It is a form of work-play that I try to enter into as a way of receiving questions to be pursued or inspiration. This process opens me to asking ‘why?’ I am making something, which will inevitably lead me to the answer of ‘how?’ to make it. I don’t ask for answers, only new lines of inquiry through artmaking. I don’t have any superstitions about new pieces, but I do feel like there is something seeking a form to embody. Ideas are looking for an art form to enter into, and my job to be open to that voice, to get out of the way and let it flow.
I prefer to do creative work alone, sometimes for days or weeks without much interaction with people. Once the creative part is finished and I am in the production phase of sculpture such as molding and casting, then I like to work with others.
Whether I listen to music or not, and what kind of music I listen to is dependent on the stage of the sculpting process. If I am in the development and creative flow stage of sculpting I prefer silence, but once I am working on bronze I like to have music on.
How long does an image usually take you to complete? How many steps are involved?
This is entirely dependent on the size and complexity of a piece. The clay sculpting can take anywhere from three hours (for a terracotta sketch) to 100 hours (for a life size figure). There are far too many steps to explain briefly here!
You appear to be very busy with multiple projects including your involvement with your studio, you had a documentary done about you recently, and you host workshops all over the world it seems. What do you do in any free time you might have?
I have about thirty projects going right now at varying states of development and completion. In addition, I have workshops planned for Rome in May 2023, at my home studio in June/July and many other places beyond that. My busy schedule leaves me little time for much else, but I like to read in my free time. I try to read a little every day, even if it is just one poem, which is a daily habit. When I have time, I will attend openings in NYC, go to museums, and occasionally watch a film. There is little time for much else!
Out of some of those projects, and I’m sure others that I didn’t mention, what are some of your favourite things to be engaged in?
As I said above, I enjoy reading poetry. I find that it opens my mind to creative pathways and imagery when I am working in the studio. It puts me in a state of mind that is mentally flexible and non-linear. I also like going for walks in nature, especially with my dog. On the flip side, engaging with culture in cities as a flaneur or observer is also essential for me to feel rejuvenated and fed. Having a balanced connection between nature and culture helps to keep my creative momentum.
Ideas are looking for an art form to enter into, and my job to be open to that voice, to get out of the way and let it flow.
Tell me about the themes you have chosen to depict. How does your artwork represent you and your values?
Primarily, I am interested in discovering the various ways in which the human form can communicate states of being and ask questions about the mystery of what it means to be human, if there is any meaning. My work usually employs methods of verisimilitude within ambiguous contexts precisely to jolt the viewer out of their preconceived notion of what actions can narrate what it means to be an embodied consciousness. I seek ways to conjoin the human form with ambiguity of action or gesture in such a way that it feels both recognizable and mysterious in equal measure, which is how I experience life.
Who or what has been the single most important influence for your work today? Who are some of the other artists that have influenced you?
This is a nearly impossible question to answer, not because I don’t know some of the answer, but because it would take me an entire book to properly and fairly explain who and what has influenced me, and even then that book would be incomplete. There is no single most important influence, and I intentionally keep it that way. I don’t ever want to feel like there is one salient influence on my creative process. It is constantly shifting and growing due to the constant accumulation and accretion of newly discovered thoughts, ideas, cultures, artists, experiences, people, etc. Perhaps it would be fair to say that insatiable curiosity is my biggest single influence.
Tell me about your personal workspace. How big is it and what does it look like?
I live about 100 KM from NYC, on what used to be a small farm. There are multiple work spaces for sculpting clay, drawing, and bronze work. The bronze working spaces are in the old barn, but my primary space for sculpting and drawing is in a building specifically designed for that purpose. It is about 93 square meters with 6 meter high ceilings and a wall of north facing windows. The walls are covered with artwork, shelves for storage, bookshelves, tool cabinets and supplies.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
My work was beginning to change just prior to covid-19, but because of the isolation it may have accelerated that process. Covid-19 hit me hard financially, and the stress was an impetus for me to pursue the new ideas I was finding in my work. That might seem like a contradiction, but I find that major life shifts can be viewed as signs that you need to make changes, at least that is how I see those times in my life. When things look like they are falling apart, or might fall apart, I tend to throw caution to the wind a bit more and try things I have been putting off, or do something entirely new.
Tell me about “Exotherm”. What is the message behind this beautiful piece? How long did it take you to complete?
Exotherm emerged through the experience of working with a friend of mine. When I am working with female models I have one personal rule: they must exude agency and a sense of self-determination that confronts the viewer/voyeur. Margarita has a physical demeanor and presence that is commanding, so all I had to do was find a way to deploy her attributes. She and I had a lot of conversations about how to represent individual characteristics through limited means. For example, she has red hair, but I was working in a monochromatic material. Chromatic limitation forced me to seek ways to describe her attributes metaphorically, hence the idea of making her hair ‘flaming’. From there it followed that an emotional counterweight might add a layer of meaning, which is how the fire extinguisher came to mind. I have no specific message to impart, but I do intend it to communicate the feeling that she is in control, and her intensity is combustible. The extinguisher is not for herself, but for whoever or whatever might become inflamed, so that heat is under her command, not ours.
Why did you enter the Beautiful Bizarre Magazine Art Prize?
I entered because I have a few friends that have won the prize, and they encouraged me to enter because my latest work fits in well with the personality of Beautiful Bizarre Magazine.
What do you feel you have gained from this experience?
I’ve gained insight into another part of the art world ecosystem, which I am sure will influence me and my work.
Would you recommend it and encourage others to enter? If so, why?
Absolutely! It is a very effective way to see how one’s work converses with other artwork being made around the world. It is also a great way to expand one’s community and network of people working in the artworld.