A Conversation with Brittany Fanning
Much of your previous work centered around realistic settings. Living in South Korea, you painted your surrounding neighborhoods. The environments in your latest pieces are more surreal and even apocalyptic at times. What inspired the change in scenery?
When the pandemic hit, it didn’t feel safe to go outside and delve into neighborhoods like before. I had always wanted to paint wild stories and this gave me a chance to work from my imagination a bit more, painting my dark sense of humor. Being stuck inside, I consumed so much more media and always had a true crime podcast like Sword and Scale on or a comedy show, such as Your Mom’s House or Doug Stanhope. I listened to audio books about Comanches and watched Wes Anderson and Quentin Tarantino films. I listened to Wutang and Public Enemy. I drank wine and recalled growing up in Florida. All of these elements are combined in this series.
How do the seeds of a painting get planted?
A scene in a film or a news story can inspire a painting. In 2019, during the fires in California, I learned that fire tornadoes existed. It seemed like the most terrifying thing and I just had to paint it. Sometimes paintings simply start with a color palette I see somewhere in nature or even in a stranger’s outfit. I then develop a concept around that using themes I’m fond of. For example “No Cream in My Coffee” (2021) began when I wanted to use a mustard, turquoise, and coral color palette. I then combined a Wu Tang T-shirt, a mug from The Office, and a loquacious hand gesture to create a scene using those colors.
Your recent work features a lot of alligators. What do they represent in the context of those paintings?
I grew up in Florida and spent a lot of time in nature. As children, my sisters and I were often told to keep an eye out for alligators and swim under water if we see them. Being 15 years removed from that culture, the whole concept of being around one of those monsters still terrifies me. The fact that we were even close to them as children baffles me. I’d place them in paintings the same way I’d paint an oncoming tornado. Foreboding danger ruining serenity. And over time, I grew to really love alligators. I love painting their scales and other textures. I love the different odd expressions they have. While searching for photos, I noticed that they’re often hunted and it breaks my heart. I find myself falling in love with this animal and really sympathizing with them. Now they act as a companion to the figures in the paintings.
As an international artist, do you find the market is drawn to foreign imagery, or paintings that resonate closer to home?
I only know what I’m told by my Korean friends in that they don’t really like foreigners painting Korean scenes. There’s enough Korean artists doing that already. However, I wanted to do my take on it. I thought of my Korean neighborhood series as being similar to David Hockney traveling from England to California and painting swimming pools and foreign architecture. In the last few years, I’ve noticed galleries showing much more foreign artwork. Korea is great because so much of the population is interested in art. I’ve noticed that my collectors in Korea love the alligators and more violent pieces. I never would have expected that.
What’s the story behind your subjects? Are they inspired by real people?
When I think of a concept, I immediately want to get to work, so I use myself or my husband as models. Since the narratives of my paintings involve an element of violence, I don’t want to put someone I don’t know well in that position. I did begin using Maria Bernard (Spanish model) for some paintings. She has a slight darkness and dismissiveness about her with an absolutely wonderful style and sense of color. I hope to branch out and use other models in the future. It’s just not the easiest with the pandemic… and the subsequent agoraphobia.
You’ve dabbled in textiles and NFTs. Are there any mediums that you’re dying to work with in the future?
In university, I took craft media in painting class. The professor, Vivian Liddell, encouraged us to explore more traditional Appalachian materials, so I began adding embroidery to my paintings. I really loved using embroidery the same way I would use paint strokes and I hope to implement it in future work- when the concept fits the materials. I really look forward to working with bronze in the future. I’ve always been drawn to the consistency and permanence of bronze sculptures and it’s so different from anything I’ve done.
What are the pros and cons of bringing your work to the digital sphere?
To combat the flatness of the digital sphere, I try to take a lot of detailed photos. I love seeing the mess of a painting up close, all the imperfections and accidental paint splatters. After viewing a Hernan Bas exhibition in person, and seeing his paintings up close, I noticed similar imperfections and was really captivated by that aspect of the whole work- Just a mess of brushstrokes and a variety of materials. It was easily one of the most beautiful exhibitions I’ve ever seen. It can only be appreciated in person, so I hope to exhibit in more places in the future.
If you can convey any message or emotion through your work, what would it be?
There’s that moment of laughter that happens when a tragedy is especially tragic. Almost like the extremity of the situation is so difficult to grasp, that you only feel like laughing about it. I think it’s a kind of shock mechanism. That’s a feeling I imply in my work, and I’m still working on it. I’m not very emotional, and I think my work conveys a dry sense of humor and complacency with the fact that the world is burning.
For more information on work by Brittany Fanning, contact firstname.lastname@example.org new email.
Prints will be available to purchase on Friday, September 24th, at Guy Hepner Editions.