Patrick Brennan has shown his paintings and videos nationally and internationally, including: MoMA / PS1, Galerie Lelong, Nicole Klagsbrun, Fitzroy, Cleopatra’s, Essex Flowers, Parrish Art Museum, Anthology Film Archives and Edward Thorpe Gallery in New York; V1 Gallery in Copenhagen, Cooper Cole in Toronto, Canada, Hiener Contemporary in Washington, DC and Romer Young in San Francisco. Brennan was awarded a NYFA Fellowship in Painting in 2015. His work has been reviewed and published in The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Hyperalergic, Modern Painters Daily and The Brooklyn Rail. Brennan has curated shows in New York at Nicole Klagsbrun, Zieher Smith, Monya Rowe Gallery and Halsey McKay and is a founding member of Essex Flowers, established in 2013 as an artist run space in the Lower East Side. Brennan represented by Halsey Mckay Gallery in New York and Romer Young in San Francisco.
Q&A with Patrick Brennan
Questions by Emily Burns
You employ a range of materials in your paintings—including Flashe, acrylic, enamel, ink, silk, Mylar, paper, on canvas. Can you talk about how the different materials function with each other? When constructing a painting, how does the layering of the materials occur? How does the silk exist/interact with the other materials?
Well—I think the more recent work has less outside materials than in the past. That said, there are a few moments of collage. Whether I’m collaging material directly to the canvas or creating that illusion with paint, I want the surface to feel worked. There are many ways to do that. That was the genius of Rauschenberg. All the work felt like it had a personal history no matter what it was made of. I want my work to reveal that history, whatever the material.
How do you choose the materials you are working with? Are there specific reasons for including a material like silk?
The silk in particular is something that I use to create bumps and mounds on the canvas. Soaked in acrylic medium, silk can take on almost any shape. Silk also takes dyeing really well. It’s a great way to get some depth just from the color application itself.
You have said that your work elicits a feeling of anxiety—do you feel that your work is responding to a particular anxiety that is present in your environment currently, or has anxiety always been a theme for you?
Always! For me, it mostly comes from not knowing what's next. The best paintings reflect that. The viewer that can contend with an anxious visual experience will have a true and full relationship with the work. I need to think about the life of the painting and what that looks like as well. It takes time to find your way into my paintings. I think of it as a kind of commitment between the viewer and myself.
In your recent series, the acrylic paint is layered in such a way that it becomes dimensional, like a thick layer of something not quite like paint. The layers of substance almost feel tacked on, as if they were created separately from the surface of the painting, then attached. Does this collaged feeling come naturally from your process? Have you always worked in this way?
I think this is because the contrast has been ramped up. This is a deliberate way to make vibrations in the color. Also Flashe is made with vinyl, which has a consistency that feels like it is sitting right on top of the surface. I’m always moving between ways of applying paint. Layering, spraying, pouring, dyeing and brushing on are all in play. The process of how to make the painting is always evolving. I’m excited to find or invent new ways to execute something. My experience in the studio is physical and that really shows on the surface.
You have written that leaving NYC to live in a western New York town affected your work. Did that change ripple through to your current work? What are you responding to most right now?
It really did and still does. I'm dealing with my relationship to my environment in my work. Leaving the city regularly is fairly new to me and it has been eye opening! I hope that the paintings give people a sense of that. I want the viewer to imagine what it would be like to live in the picture they are looking at. I am never too comfortable in the natural world, and now know to expect the unexpected. This has become a real theme in my work. I want my paintings to demand something of you when you’re in a room with them. I thrive on the potential of what that experience can do, and the anxiety returns in that potential. When I was in college I would go to the Albright Knox Museum just to be alone in the stairwell with this huge 20-foot Kiefer painting. I could not tell you what that painting was about but I will never forget the charge it gave me when I was alone with it.
What is a typical day like for you?
If I'm not teaching or working a freelance gig, I work in the studio like a day job. I love to get in early and leave around 6–7 pm. I still have the mentality that a job has to suck and not be the best part of your life. Painting during “work hours” is a kind of freedom from that idea.
What do you listen to while you work? Is this affected by being in another artists’ space?
I listen to music in the morning. In the afternoon I shift to podcasts and news.
Who are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
Laura Owens and Roy Lichtenstein at the moment. I love that these 2 artists come from different eras but you can still see their constant questioning of the spaces they inhabit. You can always tell in their paintings that they are aware of their surroundings in a profound way. I’m also working on a project based on Robert Altman's filmmaking style. I’m re-watching a bunch of his movies at the moment. I’m into the idea of layering in painting in the same way he layered dialogue. At first people were turned off by his complicated and new way of storytelling. He made the viewer work and pay attention to what they were watching. His movies were undeniably entertaining while still being complex and not easy to digest.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Movies like Mad Max and Flash Gordon were a huge influence on me. As a kid I was glued to shows like Pee Wee’s Playhouse and The Land of Make Believe (Mr. Rogers). These were worlds created out of cheap and accessible materials. To me, that was an example of real life meeting art in a sincere way. These influences showed up in my early material driven paintings... I have always been interested in DIY feeling over highly crafted execution.
I am currently reading: Exterminator! by William Burroughs and the Agnes Martin bio. I’m listening to the audio book Born to Run and any true crime story I come across.
Any advice to recent grads who are interested in getting their work out there and exhibiting?
Make friends. Being a part of a like-minded community is the best way. Make your own shows wherever you can: apartments, flower shops, wherever! Focus on the work itself and not so much where it can be shown. Build up your name and your identity through the work and try and take the rest with grain of salt. It’s all about being patient and working in the studio as much as possible.
Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
"Don't worry about getting shows and being cool - just learn how to paint." –Amy Sillman when I first got to NYC.
What is the best exhibition you have seen recently?
It’s hard to say. If I'm picking one: Lygia Pape at The Met Breuer.
Also: Alex Da Corte at Mass MOCA, Jess Fuller at Canada, Lydia McCarthy at 106 Green and Scott Olson at Cohan were all awesome!
What has been one of the most challenging aspects of your career as an artist so far?
Maintaining one. With so many ups and downs, it's not a career for the faint of heart. I’m always trying to make the work fresh new and exciting. That’s the part I can control the rest is unpredictable. It’s a lot of work! It’s challenging to maintain a career as an artist anywhere, especially this town. It’s important to try and redefine what success means as an artist. It’s always changing and is fleeting. If you accept that then you can keep going, if not it’s not going to work.
What is your relationship with social media? Do you have a favorite or least-favorite platform?
I like Instagram as a way to document process and progress. It's a way to put eyes in your studio more regularly. A dialogue can start there and continue into the real world.
Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I'm in a couple of group shows. "Brass Tacks" at Anat Ebgi in Los Angeles this summer.
"New Work, New York" at ALBADA JELGERSMA in Amsterdam this fall.
I will also have a two-person exhibition with Melissa Brown at the University of Auburn in Alabama next spring.
Thank you so much for sharing your work and talking with us!
To find out more about Patrick and his work, check out his gallery's website.