Can you describe your formative background?
GB: I’ve always been keenly interested in
the natural world and how things work, especially on a biological level,
and I’ve always been drawing. When I went to college I had every
intention of studying marine biology. Before long though, the art classes
started outnumbering the science requirements and I ended up with a
BFA in painting. People often think this is a really big shift, but
for me it doesn’t seem that way at all. I feel like I’m
still interested in the same things as always, but just using different
tools to explore these themes.
FV: Can you describe the idea behind the
themes/subjects in your work? Why are you drawn to them?
GB: I suppose the main themes in my work are not
so different than any other artist’s. I’m interested in
how people see and relate to the world around them. If it seems like
I have a particular focus on the natural world I guess it’s because
to me it is the only “real reality “. When people ask why
I’m into nature it sounds a little crazy to me. How can you not
be interested in something that you are? As far removed as we think
we are from nature, we’re still breathing, eating, pooping animals
intricately part of our environments. We’ve just found very good
ways to hide it for some reason.
People are often very surprised that I’m from New Jersey. They
always assume it’s California or New Mexico – somewhere
expansive and western where the “nature” is very obvious
or famous. But I don’t think anywhere could have sharpened my
focus better on the natural world than New Jersey. The state has really
varied and amazing ecosystems. You’ve got your coast and your
mountains, salt marshes, the pine barrens. It’s the southern terminus
for a lot of northern species and the northern terminus for a lot of
southern species. New Jersey is also a really bittersweet state. It’s
so apparent what’s been lost, and as a kid I always seemed to
be seeing this most. Man has impacted the state tremendously, but everywhere
you can see the natural world reclaiming different areas and re-establishing
itself, often in unexpected ways.
FV: Do you find yourself addressing current
global environmental issues? and if so is it a conscious decision to
GB: It’s not really a conscious decision,
it’s just what I see and what I’m thinking about. I don’t
ever say, “ok, now I’ve gotta make a drawing about rising
sea levels and then follow it up with that one about the invasive longhorn
beetle.” Everything I paint has a basis in reality. Even the more
“fantastic” images are not far off from anything I’ve
actually seen. Our impact on the environment can bee seen everywhere.
All you have to do is be willing to look.
FV: Can you describe the process of creating
one of your drawings? What type of research goes into the preparation?
GB: The images usually come pretty fully formed.
Translating it onto the paper is sort of like a distillation process.
I try to remove everything that isn’t important to the image and
only include what’s essential. The viewer is intelligent enough
to fill in the rest, and it serves to focus the lens on what I think
is really important. Using ink on paper re-enforces this idea of decision
and restraint because there is no room for mistake and no going back.
Once a mark is down, it’s down.
I tend to paint animals striking curious poses, so quite a bit of anatomical
study goes on. I’ll look at tons of different photos and if the
zoo has what I’m drawing I’ll go and see it in person. Or
I’ll check out the Museum of Natural History. Nothing moves there
so it’s pretty handy when you want to make sketches of something
in the flesh. Taxidermied flesh that is.
Often a drawing has a particular setting. The insects and plants and
sometimes the rocks are an indication as to where something is taking
place. Occasionally I’ll include two species together which historically
shared a range but no longer do because of extermination of one or the
other. I want this to suggest a re-establishment of that former range
or to place the picture in the past, or to have people think about two
species interacting which no longer do. And I’m fully aware that
I’m probably the only person seeing any of this or caring about
whether I’ve got the “right” rock in the foreground.
FV: What's your agenda? Who are you trying to reach?
GB: I want people to look at the world around
them and see the things they overlooked before. To “re-see”
them. By presenting something very common - so common that it’s
lost any power as an image - in a new way you can try to get people
to see it again. And maybe see it truly.
example the portrait of the deer. Deer have become, and maybe always
were, such a ubiquitous symbol to use in art. Especially lately in “hipster”
art (I think as a sort of shorthand for white-trash cred. But what the
hell do I know…). I was trying to depict a deer in an unconventional,
human and confrontational way. Same goes with the Abe Lincoln portrait.
Lincoln has become such an icon and a symbol that it’s hard to
remember that he was human. I wanted to present him as what he was –
a human animal.
I’m trying to reach anyone I can – anyone who looks at the
work. In general I hate art created for artists or those in the art
“know”. It’s so elitist and self-referential, and
self-reverential for that matter, that it immediately leaves me cold.
Even if it is smart. That attitude of, “are you cool enough or
schooled enough to even know what this is about?”, really puts
up a wall between artists and the public and leads to things like every
non-artist beginning a comment or insight they may have with, “I
don’t know anything about art but…” This wall also
keeps people from learning more about art and leads to the dismissive
“my kid could do that” school of thought.
FV: If you weren't making art, what would you be doing?
GB: Probably a scientist. Hopefully doing actual
field research instead of computer modeling or cleaning up after penguins
at Sea World. Either that or bartender.
FV: Do you think your work can contribute to the understanding
of contemporary art?
GB: I guess this relates to the question about
my agenda and who I’m trying to reach. I think people usually
have respect for craft, and perhaps because I draw recognizable things
in a way that hopefully demonstrates a high level of craft it can draw
people in. People are less apt to be drawn into a steaming pile of horse
shit whether there’s an amazing idea behind it or if it is in
fact just a steaming pile of horse shit. If nothing else at least a
guy isn’t likely to walk up to my work and say, “my kid
(or horse) could do that.”
FV: Do you think the art world is getting too big for itself?
GB: Not at all. If you go up to a random person
on the street, even in New York, and ask them to name a contemporary
artist, I bet nine times out of ten they won’t be able to name
one. I would love for people to have a casual knowledge of contemporary
art the way they do about every drunken binge of any C-list celebrity.
I also wish that curators and gallerists and art writers would look
around more and give more exposure to under-represented artists instead
of sticking to the usual suspects and the usual trends. There is so
much good work out there and so many people with good ideas. They need
to be encouraged.