Brandi Strickland makes collages whose aesthetic cannot be pinpointed. An art historian’s attempt to describe her work would ultimately fail.
Brandi Strickland makes collages whose aesthetic cannot be pinpointed. An art historian’s attempt to describe her work would ultimately fail. After hours of perusing her blog and website, I found it hard to believe that not only so many pieces, but in such a variety of styles, were created by an artist still in her 20s.
Though I was mesmerized by her works, I had a nebulous understanding of how she made them. I was shocked to hear that the majority, many so detailed that I assumed them to be digitally constructed, are made by hand. Strickland accidentally fell into mixed media collage by way of journaling. She didn’t set out to make this her “thing,” but the trajectory of her career speaks to the magic of letting small hobbies unfold into boundless passions.
Titles such as “Dreaming Room” or “False Door” provide cryptic backdrops for each series. Strickland’s interest in writing is reflected in thought out titles. Names for individual pieces, such as “Fractal Field,” make the viewer intimately aware of the artist’s headspace.
These varied series explore the folds of and depths of consciousness. Many beg the eyes to explore interlocking painterly strokes and kaleidoscopic abstractions, as if part of a “Where’s Waldo?” collection. Others are bold, geometric explorations, and still others are startlingly simple. Strickland is primarily at the mercy of found objects, parameters that differ from the brush and palette.
We chatted about her multifaceted background–appropriate for someone who makes collages–current projects, and most importantly, the process behind her varied visual works.
Where are you from?
North Carolina. When I was young I grew up in Clinton, North Carolina, which is in the Eastern part of the state. Sometime during middle school, I moved to Charlotte and I lived [there] the whole time I was in middle and high school. I went to college there. I stayed there all the way until we moved to Richmond.
Why did you move to Richmond?
We were kind of burned out on Charlotte. We had been there for so long. My boyfriend or my partner is a web developer and it didn’t really matter where he worked because everything he does is connected to the computer. By that point I was doing pretty well with my artwork and I realized it didn’t really matter where I lived either. We had spent a long time checking out different cities and figuring out where we wanted to be. I don’t know how we settled on Richmond, but we started looking into it. I heard good things about VCU, and I was thinking about getting my MFA and I knew they had a program for that. Not long after we got there, our priorities really shifted, and I realized I didn’t care about having a MFA, or at least not now. We really liked Richmond, but we wanted to be able to do more for less. We stayed until our lease was up, and then we moved out here to Floyd.
We really like it. We had never heard of it until we started living in Richmond. We wanted to move somewhere in Virginia, and we were hoping to find someplace kind of rural because we wanted to get our expenses down and change our lifestyle, so it would be easier to manage. We drove out here to view this place and we really liked it, so we just took it. It was the first place we saw. We’ve been here almost two years.
Do you like doing stuff outdoors? Is that an important thing for you?
I wouldn’t say I’m a hiker or kayaker or anything like that. But I like to garden and just hang out outside.
When did you start making visual art?
I started sometime during high school. I kept journals when I was young, like 12, 13, 14. I started cutting stuff out of magazines. I didn’t think it was artistic at all–I just thought it was my journal. In high school I took photography classes, and I got into my art because of my photography classes. By the time I signed up for college, I wasn’t dead set on studying art, but it was between art and writing. The school I wanted to go to, Queens University, had a program for both that was decent. I chose art once I was there because I really liked the professors and the art program.
You were making collages before, but just for fun, totally unaware that what you were doing might be perceived as an art form.
Exactly, because I started doing that when I was 12. My mom actually wanted me to get rid of all the magazines that I had, and I wanted to take stuff out of them before I got rid of them. I had a big reckoning one day where I cut all the stuff out of my magazines before I had to put them on the curb, and I guess it started from there. There’s an artist I found–her book was at one of the bookstores near my house. Her name is Sabrina Ward Harrison, and I found her work after I started making those cheap ball collages. She inspired me to look at it in a different way.
Tell me what you are working on now. Are you still making collages, and are they made entirely by hand like the cutouts you did as a teen?
I’d say 98% of my work I do by hand. Over this past winter, I started tinkering around at photoshop. I started because when I scan my work I have to adjust it, crop it, and make sure it looks like it does on paper. I started playing around with filters and stuff. I would not say that I know what I’m doing with Photoshop by any stretch, but I started having fun. I would scan stuff, and then I would mess with it and photoshop it. Over the winter, when you’re trapped inside for months, it’s a really good release. Plus it’s cheap. You don’t have to buy boards or paper. I really like doing variations on a theme, like 15 versions of one collage with slightly different colors and stuff. I get stuck in a rut with the things I reach for, and the colors I am drawn to. Photoshop opened my mind about some of that. Most of my work is just glued with gel medium, clippings, construction paper and that sort of thing.
I’m looking at the series called Seed Stone and this first painting… there’s so much going on. Is all of that cut out individually? How did you do it?
That’s one of my most ambitious pieces. When I started that one I used a bigger board than what I normally buy. I think it’s 18X18 or 16X16. If you’re going through a magazine, the pieces you are going to cut out are all fairly small. It’s hard to make a collage on a gigantic scale because your source material is dainty. I started cutting out really tiny people, people that were a quarter of an inch tall. I just saved a huge pile of stuff. I started working on the background, like the setting, the sky, the buildings, and just filled it in. I haven’t made another one like that. It was kind of an one-off. But I should, I really like the maximum density.
I noticed that one looks more like a drawing than a lot of your other pieces.
That one actually has no paint or anything in it. It’s 100% collage.
The amount of art on your site shows that you’re a prolific visual artist. What is your routine like? Do you make something almost every day?
For one, I think collage lends itself to a rapid pace. It’s not like an oil painting where it takes days, weeks, months to dry. I go through phases. Sometimes I won’t work for a month and won’t make anything or hardly anything. Then the pile shifts and I’ll be going crazy every night for a couple months. It seems to come and go. I try not to force it if I’m not into it. I try to give it time if I feel like it’s happening for me. I just really like making work and I try to work on something until I am really happy with it. I don’t put a lot of stuff away that I’m not crazy about.
How often do you find yourself doing freehand drawing or painting?
Since I kind of go in phases or waves… sometimes I’ll have my sketchbook nearby, and every night for a couple of weeks I’ll do some drawing. I feel like certain times of the year I can control my pen well, and when I’m drawing I’m really pleased with what I’m doing and it’s a good thing. There are other phases where every time I pick up a pen or a pencil, I just hate what I make. It usually goes in waves. I’ll do a lot of drawing or a lot of painting, and then I’ll step back.
You said you got into art by way of photography classes in high school. Do you ever incorporate your own photographs into your pieces, or primarily found photographs?
It is primarily found photographs. I have used some of my own… I do take photographs still. But in high school we had film and we used a darkroom, and especially in some of my earlier work I would use some lithograph strips or prints that didn’t look good in collages. In 2009-11 I had a printer that was nice, and when I had that I was able to take some of my work, print it, cut it out, and use it. But those were the exceptions, not the rules. I would like to though. If I had access to printing a little easier, I think I would really like to do that.
With the possibility of so many different types media to combine, I wonder how you decide where your energies should go?
It’s also a thing about economy. Collage is a good medium for people who don’t have a lot of money to put [into] it. A tube of really nice oil paint might be $30. A stack of magazines would be like $3. If I had been extremely wealthy and could have all of the materials when I was younger, I doubt collage would have been my focus. But I’m glad it happened the way that it did because now that I’ve been doing it, it is fulfilling.
That’s the magic of it too. It just sort of happened and evolved into this really cool thing for you, a very personal conglomeration of interests.
Even in college, I studied a lot of other stuff. You had to take oil painting classes, and photos. I enjoyed it all but it didn’t feel like a shoe that fit.
Do you ever feel a sense of sensory overload, and perhaps find that collage is the best means of organizing what’s in your head?
In our time there is just so much information and so much media that you feel like it’s attacking you. It’s interesting to take control over it and do what you want with the images being forced on you. I definitely think everything I do is self-therapy. It’s something you feel like you need to do for your own individual health, and it is also really rewarding when you can share it or have other people enjoy it too.
How important is the theme of a series to you? Do you think of a theme first, or does a theme come to you later?
I think it’s usually the work first. I start doing the work and assign meaning to it as I’m working. I think about what it is and what its message might be. A lot of times I don’t think about the title of the series or the piece until they’ve been finished for awhile. I’ll put something aside for a couple of months, and then I’ll be like, “Oh, this is what I should call it.” When I’ve thought about it before, it seems like when you’re dreaming you don’t know what it means, but later when you’re thinking about it you make connections and realize there might have been a message there. It’s more like that. I think occasionally I have thought about an idea first, but that’s much more rare.
Some of the most recent things you did, such as the digital manipulation of solid shapes, is so cool. Very pastel and neon. What inspired this particular series?
If you go further back on my blog, a year or two ago, I found a couple of programs online like Lunatic, PiZap, Blingee of course. I could take some of the images that I had made in collage, and it was like Photoshop for idiots. You’re able to change how it looks, adjust the colors. I got really into that. I would make a thousand versions of one collage. My hard drive was full of all these different variations. So I started playing around more with pastels at that time, because it wouldn’t be something I would reach for in the studio. But when you’re doing low commitment, low cost, you’re not wasting a board, you’re not wasting any of your supplies. You can just adjust it on your computer. Anyway, a long time ago I made a bunch of animations of some crystals and they were all pastel like the colors you were talking about. I’ve been sort of fascinated with that pallette ever since. I’ve made a lot of stuff that’s in that color realm. But it’s in my digital work; I haven’t really done it in my hand-cut collage. Those colors weren’t common in magazines and stuff.
Do you exhibit all over or primarily in Virginia?
I don’t think I’ve ever exhibited in Virginia. I’ve been quiet since we moved here. I guess when I lived in Charlotte, I showed in Charlotte a lot, because I knew people from college and I knew friends around. Before we moved, people started getting in touch and I would mail [work] out to shows elsewhere. That’s the funny thing, too. Almost all of my shows I’ve just mailed the work–I haven’t actually been at the show. I would like to show in Virginia but it’s been a phase of getting my bearings… it’s been transitional.
Are you part of any artist groups of collectives? Does that play a role in your work?
I’m a member of the WAFA collective (wearefuckingawesome.org). They are primarily collagists, but there’s a musician and some people practice graphic design. They are really, really amazing people. I guess I connected with them in 2009, 2010. It’s just a small group, I think there’s maybe 10 of us. It’s been international, people have come and gone, but it’s pretty close-knit. It’s not like any visiting group or anything like that.
What do you think of making and sharing art in this crazy digital era? Do you think things are moving more towards pushing art on a blog or a website, vs. an actual gallery setting?
It’s sort of a double-edged sword. You’re definitely able to find and connect with your people more [online]. There’s a deep niche of people who are dedicated to the same stuff you are. On the flip side of it, it’s hard to do everything yourself. You watch documentaries and you hear about how galleries and artists partnered in the past, and I sort of fantasize about someone photographing my artwork for me. Or paying to ship it back to me, whatever the chivalrous gallery of the past would do.