Brian Rea is probably best known in New York for the dozens of illustrations and drawings he produces each year for the New York Times. But this multi-faceted artist works across a dazzling array of media, from video art films to cut-paper 3-D illustration art to murals, environmental installations, and wearable art. Prior to decamping for the Golden State, Brian was art director of the New York Time Op-Ed page for four-and-a-half years. His art has been exhibited in museums including the Walker Art Center and Fundació Joan Miró, Barcelona, and he has maintained a steady presence in American Illustration going on 17 years. Last week, Brian did the DART Artist Q&A; this is what he wrote.
Q: You live in Los Angeles, but where are you from originally? As an artist, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in L.A.?
A: I've moved around a lot (grew up in Chelmsford, MA, lived in Baltimore, NYC, Stockholm and Los Angeles) and have taken memories and stories from each place. It's a bit Katamari-like (video game) sometimes. Some stuff sticks and adds momentum to the work; other stuff falls off or fades away. It should. Right now, I live in L.A.—feels good—crazy light, the open-ness of the environment, bigger studio space, weird little plants, people and the ocean—definitely has had an impact on my work.
Q: How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?
A: There was an older kid in my high school named Lance. Lance was a 'wicked good' artist—he could draw crazy photo realistic stuff (reflections, a hand drawing a hand, self portraits in windows, etc.). I drew a lot as a kid, but to a 13-year-old, Lance's art was next level, mind blowing shit. So I followed his track to art school. From there, teachers and mentors opened my eyes to new directions in my work, apart from being able to draw a realistic face coming out of water.
Brian Rea creating one of the two Visions and Fears murals Included in the Murals Práctiques; Murals Contemporánies exhibition at Joan Miró Foundation, Barcelona, Spain; curated by Martina Millà.
Q: Who and what are some of your strongest influences?
A: Saul Steinberg, Antoni Tapies, Francis Picabia and David Park were a few faves who influenced early directions in my work; how I composed pictures, the tone of my stories, colors, etc. Over time, it becomes a bigger question about what you crush on, what's really around you and what's in your heart. Nowadays, I've found friends, family and travel to be a greater influence on what I make.
Q: What was your first great assignment?
A: Probably my first Op-Ed piece for the New York Times; Nicholas Blechman was art director at the time. I might have cried when I opened the paper.
Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process?
A: When drawing starts to feel more like building something bigger; when you flow.
Q: What is the best assignment you’ve ever had? What’s the worst assignment you’ve ever had?
A: Best assignment: Having the opportunity to collaborate with Paul Sahre on Malcolm Gladwell Collected.
Worst assignment: I drew a butterfly on a woman's hand once.
Q: What is your favorite time of day for working?
A: Night as it rolls into the day waking up. You know you've made something special if you were up that late.
Q: What are some of the independent projects you’re working on now?
A: A series of drawings and paintings called Waves, Woods and Words. I'm also trying to fund a project called Angry Auto. This would be a painted van driven off a cliff.
One for the article Moving Through Grief, Chair by Chair, a piece for the Sunday New York Times Modern Love section about a man grieving the death of his wife. And his struggle to throw away the items she decorated their home with. AI32.
Q: What are you listening to now?
A: Big Black Delta, but I share the studio with the fellas from Outpost.LA so I steal their playlists.
Q: What are some of your favorite blogs/websites for inspiration?
A: Butdoesitfloat.com for pictures. Pinchyandfriends.com for beats.
Q: Have you ever had a creative block with a deadline looming? What do you do to get crackin’?
A: I don't believe in creative blocks at all, but stress happens if the workload at the studio starts to snow bank. Sometimes I'll shut things down for a bit and go surf. Helps clear my head and re-set things.
Q: Do you teach—if so, where? And what do you like best about teaching?
A: Art Center College of Design. I team-teach a class with the amazing teacher and artist Paul Rogers (which in and of itself could also be the best thing about teaching). Seeing confidence grow and personal directions develop in students’ work is pretty great as well.
Q: What would you have for your last supper?
Q: What advice would you give to a young illustrator who is just getting noticed?
A: Be kind and grateful for the work and the support. Travel a lot. Eat well.
You can see more of Brian’s art here.