A few months ago Warholian had the pleasure of visiting artist Brenton Bostwick at his Marin County studio. The sophistication and quality of Brenton’s work immediately caught our eye, with forms being created out of driftwood, bone, and other found objects. Bostwick’s sculptures oftentimes focus on musculature and skeletal forms, and in doing so often take on a surrealistic and sometimes eerie resonance with our own “flesh-and-blood” humanity. His work brings to mind Swiss artist H.R. Giger, only this art seems to literally breathe at times – adding to it’s visual draw, and dark beauty. We sat down with Brenton to question this intriguing artist about his craft…
1. Tell us about your background? When did you start your art?
Art has always been a part of my life. When I was younger, I was constantly drawing, copying out of comic books, attempting portraits, drawing from my imagination. Art was the only class that I excelled in; most of what was taught in school was uninteresting to me.
At some point during my time in college at NYU I began to seriously study the subject of art. Though it was not my major, I took the opportunity to use every spare class or credit to study figure drawing or painting. During this time, I was deeply attached to the idea of being a painter, there was something romantic about it for me.
When I finished college I worked as a carpenter in San Francisco, and fell in love with working outside and building with my hands. This type of work felt far more real, and resonated with me more than any subject I had studied in a classroom.
I painted in all my spare time, sometimes so obsessed with a piece that I would call in sick so I could keep working on it. My life at that time became pretty chaotic. As well as being attached to the romantic notion of being a painter, I had fallen victim to the illusion of the “insane artist”, using my raw and more consistently volatile emotions to inspire me to create.
While I developed creatively I lacked consistency in any body of work. Sometime over the years before, while in school and in living my life, I had drifted away from the joy of creating for the sake of creation. I was always worried about the finished product, never about the process.
About three and a half years ago I made some changes and moved out to the north of San Francisco bay. Having failed at getting a masters in painting and really not knowing what i was going to do with myself, I began to play absentmindedly with pieces of copper wire turning them into simple figures. I didn’t have any particular and goal with them, it was just playing.
A month passed and I found that I had 20 of these little figures, each more complex than the last, some with pieces of sticks or stone wired in with the metal. More importantly, I was enjoying myself again. I had found inspiration.
I decided that i wanted to make these tiny figures life size, but lacked the space, knowledge or abilities to create what i pictured in my mind. I started gathering sticks and stones, bones, and anything else I could find to begin to build hands, heads or upper bodies.
These first pieces were all placed on wooden boards for the simple fact that i didn’t know the materials well enough to do anything else. The process began to be guided by the materials themselves. I discovered that the best source of free wood was along the coasts and since I was not in the least bit experienced as a wood sculptor I began to use the natural beauty of the wood as it was molded by the tides and sand. As I became more proficient at working with this material I gained more skill over how I would modify and fit each piece together, while still allowing the natural beauty to dictate the form as well. This was the beginning of what continues to be an evolution between these natural forms as they are found and my process of modifying them without stripping them of their inherent beauty.
2. Your process is fascinating, please tell us more about it, and talk about your materials as well.
I am absolutely in love with everything about the materials that I use. The search, the modification, the imperfections and the difficulty of working with unique objects that I have never used before and will never find again is a constant and welcome challenge.
They teach me daily about learning to work with natural forms and using the flaws and imperfections to my advantage. When painting I was constantly struggling with my inability to render what I saw in my mind, with the flaws in my painting technique.
With this process of sculpting, the imperfect nature of the materials drive the creation as much as my vision. I use things that are that are ready-made natural art, sculpted by time, wind, sand and sea before I ever have a chance to sculpt them myself.
The searching out of these objects itself is an important part of the process in itself. I hike in to beaches with a large camping bag, filling it with materials as I go, and hike out when it gets too heavy to keep going. I can’t really say or explain exactly what I’m looking for, different beaches have different feelings and the material landscapes are always changing. It feels like hunting, but in reality it is more about quieting my thoughts enough to see the beauty in the objects that are there, rather than searching until I find the right objects.
When I bring the pieces to my studio I sort them out and begin carving, sanding, polishing and staining each individual piece before it is attached to a part of the whole. After that it is like piecing together a puzzle with no diagram to reference and in three dimensions.
Although these materials are extremely difficult and frustrating at times, at other times the process becomes a beautiful meditation on form and movement. The amazing thing about these materials is that as I continue to experiment and learn from my mistakes, more and more possibilities keep revealing themselves to me.
3. Tell us what you are currently working on.
I am always working on at least four or five pieces at the same time, it helps me to use the materials freely even if my searches don’t turn up something usable for one piece, I can always stay working.
I’m currently working on the second in an ongoing series of life-size freestanding human figures. The figures are a really exciting process for me. I’ve spent so much time building up my knowledge of the materials, learning to apply these skills in anatomy, movement and the human form is an amazing challenge.
The first one was really a pure experiment, with no prior idea of how I was going to proceed from one stage to the next. The current figure is based on everything I learned during the process of building the first, so my learning curve is accelerating rapidly.
With each new piece I’m attempting something new, pushing usually beyond my skill limits so that I’m forcing myself to learn how to produce the effects that I’m going for, as I’m doing it. This yields a lot of mistakes, but also a lot of new techniques.
Each new tool brings massive excitement as well. For two years everything was hand sanded. A single belt sander revolutionized my abilities and cut my time in half. Each piece is still hand sanded and polished, but the excitement at being able to shape so quickly was amazing. I cut my production time in half with just that one tool.
4. Who/what are some of your major creative influences?
There have been so many influences over my life that its hard to pick a few out. When I was young it was mainly comic books. In high school learning how to paint, I was obsessed with the dream landscapes of Dali and a lot of the other surrealists. When I was sixteen I was traveling through easter Europe and came upon the Seldlec Ossuary outside of Prague.
This amazing church was filled and sculpted with thousands of human bones from the thirteenth century. It was beautiful. I think that has always stuck with me. A lot of the artists that I’m drawn to are kind of on the darker edge of art, or at least they seem so to me. To name a few… Joe Coleman, Robert Williams, Gotfried Helnwein, Egon Schiele, Bosch, Lucein Freud, Ralph Steadman.
I love countless renderings of the human form throughout the history of art. Im not particularly drawn to fruit bowls and landscapes, though I respect the rendering, sometimes astoundingly so. Any time I have tried to do any type of landscape or still life, I seem to want to show the miniscule, hallucinatory organic-clockwork that I see resting just below the surface of that picturesque imagery. To me, many of these artist have a way of showing the absolute beauty and appreciation of so many of the stranger, and sometimes at first glance, grotesque areas of our visual spectrum. This experience has an infectious effect on my creativity. Throughout my life I learned as much through imitation and experimentation as I did.
A few years ago I stopped looking at any other artists work in order to cleans my visual palate. Sometimes the visual experiences created by many other artists are strong enough to make its way in to my work. So I took a few years where I stopped looking at magazines, galleries, and museums.
I reevaluated my work and started to look at the world around me for my inspiration. I began stripping away all my old stylistic conceptions, trying to “purify” what i was trying to express. While I now find much of my inspiration from the natural world, from people, from my memories, imagination and dreams.
5. Tell us in what area/direction you are looking to progress next in your artistic career?
I want to show these to a much larger audience, move outside of showing on or two pieces at a time. I’ve had some amazing opportunities recently to show my work with some really great artists and I’m floored by all the talent that that exists in the San Francisco bay area right now.
I’d love the chance to keep showing with many of these artists and to expand the range of where my work is getting shown. I’m really looking to increase the amount of people that can stand next to these sculptures and to get a feeling from them.
Photographs are not a good substitute for the feeling of any three dimensional object, and with these sculptures much of the detail is completely lost. This is especially true for the figures. The real dream I’m chasing though, is the day where I can do this as my full time job; all day every day. As much as I am able to create at the moment, I’m really excited for the time when I can work on my art without the constant push of dividing my time between a regular day job, and an artistic career. I keep that dream at the front of my mind and work toward it every day.
6. Do you have any Projects that you are excited to work on in the coming future?
Yeah, all of them really. That’s the benefit of being able to do what you love, every new project is exciting. One of the benefits of being an un-established artist is that I’m free to explore any new idea that i feel inspired by. At the moment all my focus is on creating an army of free-standing figures. I want enough to fill a very large room. I absolutely love the process that I’m developing and can see a vast range of possibilities opening up for me. Im excited to see how far I can push the boundaries of these materials and my skills with each new figure.
To learn more about Brenton Bostwick and his work, visit his website at : http://www.brentonbostwickart.com/
Photos by Michael Cuffe for Warholian