Bret Brown is a nice guy. He’s easy to talk to. His day job helps kids deal with their mental health- a saint amongst the selfish sinners of the art world. Born in Fullerton, he made his way up here in the late 90’s, most likely to surf and raise a sweet family.

His latest pieces are a departure from his previous figurative work, which looked as if it leapt from the pages of a dark fairy tale. This work is lyrical, unpredictable. Pinks, whites and blacks envelop colored streaks jutting every which way, harmoniously narrating an abstract map of mark making and collage ephemera he finds on the beach or from his very own daughter’s doodled musings.

THIRD GREY: What was the turning point for you, that one moment where you decided to go in this direction? Was it inspiration visually or emotionally or something else?

BRET BROWN: I wanted more likes on Instagram. I’m kidding. It was a returning home, back to what I used to before my daughter was born. I was feeling stagnant and bored with the monsters and characters. Maybe, also, looking at some old (Robert) Rauschenberg works –the most influential well known artist for me—stirred the desire again to get more raw and loose and process oriented. I loved doing the character work and will probably visit again someday but my heart is in abstract expressionistic work. Always has been. But SLO doesn’t like it. Too conservative. It’s one of the reasons I stopped showing back in the late 90’s.The shift started in my sketchbook while I was in Mammoth. Doing some simple collage studies. Then, the awakening happened! Haha.

TG: You went from doing figurative pieces that drove a story or idea to work that could be considered purely aesthetically driven. Do you still see a narrative in your work?

BB: Yes, it’s just less defined for the viewer. More obscure. Less clarity bordering on recognizable forms. The story is less explicit and more hidden, but it is there. This new work has been heavily influenced by listening to jazz, some of the heavy players like Getz, Coltrane, Redman, McBride, Parker, etc.

TG: What challenges do you face when making this kind of work? When do you know a piece is finished, for example?

BB:There is just a part of you that knows it’s finished. It’s more intuitive which creates a challenge. You have to be attuned to yourself, the process and the piece. Of course as the piece becomes refined I am always thinking composition, color, values, texture, etc. Where is the viewer’s eye going and where will it potentially go? I usually sit on a piece for a few days before I consider it finished, looking at it throughout the day. Nailing a solid composition is one of the most difficult things. As far as challenges doing this work, the biggest right now is having to explain the shift and why I don’t do cute monsters anymore. Not getting the positive feedback the cute/creepy illustrations give. I think the struggle is that sometimes I forget to value my work and often I feel I should be spending time with the family or doing something else to support them.

TG: What constitutes positive feedback and do you think that standard is the same for all visual creative?

BB: Feedback comes from a variety of places. But just speaking externally, one thing is: are the pieces being shown and where? What galleries want to represent your work? Is it selling online or through galleries or commissions? Social media can be a huge provider of feedback, but there is also the internal feedback of trusting your intuition and challenging yourself creatively.

Does a piece or series do what I intended it to do? Aside from the visual aesthetics. Did it make me grow or change or shift my perspective. This is the vulnerability part that the view often forgets or cant see.

TG: Is there something you want the viewer to take away after seeing your show?

BB: I want people to discover something about themselves and their own personal process regardless of my intentions. I want them to feel something.


TG: What’s your favorite part of creating this kind of work and does your favorite part differ from the previous narrative?

BB: The looseness, the process, the emotionality, the openness, that I have no rules. I can do whatever the fuck I want. The narrative work is tighter, more rigid, more precise which can lead to a meditative state especially with the ink drawings, but I lose some of the emotional piece in the process.

TG: Ultimately, who are you doing this work for? Do you find yourself being attached to any of the pieces?

BB: The work is just the work. It’s just what needs to be done. I’ve never gotten too attached to my work, I feel if I do I can’t progress on to the next developmental stage.

TG: Tell me about some of the things you incorporate into your work. How significant are they and do they dictate how the piece will look?

BB: I’d say they are pretty significant. I put little images my daughter makes, sometimes scraps she was going to throw out. I put images in from old LIFE magazines and National Geographic. Sometimes old pieces of drawings I’ve made. I look for patterns, textures, sometimes narratives within the images that fit with the larger story. They play a large part in dictating how the image will be constructed but sometimes they get completely covered up in the process. I try not to cling on to something while I’m working on the piece so covering it up completely is always an option.

TG: Would you say the process or the finished product define you as an artist? Which do you feel closer to?

BB: Oh most definitely the process. Hands down.

TG: How has being a family man influenced your process or habits in regard to your work?

BB: Time is a huge factor. Sometimes I’ll paint for 10 minutes, and sometimes I get all day. Time is limited.I’m grateful for the time I do get. I don’t have to sell, either, so I think not having that pressure is good, otherwise I’d be a complete mess. My wife is also very supportive and will sometimes have to kick me in the ass to get painting…and of course the kid is always down in the studio with me getting dirty and experimenting with pieces.

Bret Brown: Lopsided – New Abstractions at Linnaeas Café in SLO will be on display until late December.

Words by Neal Breton / Photography by Richard Fusillo