Brian Calvin is a figurative painter in the original sense of the term, which expands beyond portraiture to include all representational art. we caught up with him at his studio in Ojai, an old Hollywood prop storage facility.
BP As a California artist, how does that perspective manifest itself in your paintings?
BP Do your pictures operate differently when you have a single figure as opposed to pairs?
BP I asked David Salle what is the difference between painting and illustration to which he replied, illustration is painting with a forgone conclusion. Do you agree?
BP For your Anton Kern exhibition last year, a few of the paintings showed tightly-cropped facial features. What was that about for you?
“WHEN PAINTING, I DON’T CONCERN MYSELF WITH EITHER SIDE OF THE EMOTIONAL SPECTRUM. NO TRIUMPH. NO TRAGEDY.”
BP Do you remember deciding that you wanted to become an artist?
BP But “End of Messages” is also the name of a self-portrait you painted?
BP I asked Ugo Rondinone why his subjects always look sad and he said, it’s not sad, they’re just passive, so I wanted to ask you about the expressions in your faces.
BP John Currin says art is about thwarted joy.
|BP Tolstoy argues in What is Art? that it’s a battle between the good and the beautiful.
BC It’s refreshing to use the term “good” as a goal. Then it can hover between these larger concepts.BP People have sometimes said your figures look like slackers. How do you feel about that descriptive?
BC It has felt like an albatross at times. But honestly, it’s fine. Whatever. Never mind.BP Jeff Koons says that in portraiture, gender is the first segregator for the viewer.
BC I’m ambivalent about gender in my paintings. For years, I have tended to think of the figures in my paintings as women. I think that painting is a very feminine thing, at least, for me.BP Don’t tell the AbEx guys.
BC Obviously painting isn’t strictly masculine or feminine, it’s neither. But those guys were performing masculinity. Overcompensating maybe? You still see so much of this today.BP Gender aside, most of your subjects are anonymous figures. Is there a down side to that for you as a painter?
BC Sometimes it can feel like trying to find a house without directions, but at the same time it allows me the freedom to get lost, more abstract.BP You once made a painting of Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys and then another painting of a young Matt Dillon. Is there some overlap there?
BC There is a damaged elegance to both Dennis and Matt Dillon. Once, while discussing this very type, Bruce Hainley coined the term “wounded quarterback,” a great way to describe the vibe in both paintings. The wounded quarterback is a classic American archetype.