September 19, 2012

Spotlight: Brandi Strickland

Q&A with mixed media and collage artist Brandi Strickland.

Brandi Strickland is a 26 year-old collage and mixed media artist based out of Floyd, Virginia. She creates small-scale works of art using techniques of hand-cut collage, painting, and drawing. We enjoy her pieces because they speak to us  each illuminates a very real, vulnerable facet of the human journey. Below is a short Q&A we had the pleasure of conducting with Brandi last month.

THE LE SIGH: What is your opinion on contemporary collage?

BS: Collage is so close to my heart. I have emotional responses rather than opinions. I'm excited that lots of people are making collages and that the medium is gaining some respect. At the same time, I guess I'm annoyed by the narrow and stereotypical notions that collages are only crafty kid stuff, scrapbooks, kitsch, vintage ads, nostalgia, puns, jokes, and clever juxtapositions.

The aesthetics and methods of collage are as diverse as that of painting, photography, music, or film. I see something new every week which blows my mind and broadens the way I think about the term. Collage is high art and folk art, it's oil painting and copy machines, it's nostalgia and futurism. Collage is not a new phenomenon, it's not an Art phenomenon, and it's certainly not a strictly paper has been happening forever. It's only become associated with scrap paper due to the abundance of printed material that the 20th century produced. People and artists of every era have always borrowed from existing ideas and materials to create something new. Today we have stacks of grandma and grandpa's obsolete encyclopedias, newspapers, and magazines. It makes sense to me that we would see a paper collage explosion to compliment the paper supply.

THE LE SIGH: How has being a woman shaped your experience in the art world?

BS: The professional world is a boy's club, and the professional art world is no exception. This is something I woke up to very slowly and with great reluctance. I wanted to believe that generations of feminists before me had made strides to advance the standing of women (to near equity) in professional fields. Honestly, this mythologized equality is not my experience. Women are still commonly dismissed and sidelined as professional artists. Yes, there are many inspiring examples of successful women in the arts, but they are the exception, not the rule. All you have to do is look up the stats or take tally when you're in galleries or museums, when you're reading prestigious art magazines or blogs.

While I was in school I had no idea this remained a problem. Most of my fellow art students were female, so were many of my teachers. Art education offers an even playing field between the sexes; a generally equal number of women and men receive bachelors, masters, and PhD degrees in the realm of visual art. And an equal number of adult women and men identify as professional artists. But the data about women selling their work in galleries, showing in museums, taking commercial jobs, being written about in art related publications, receiving grants/residencies, and teaching at the university level, reveals that men continue to dominate the professional art world. Since the arts are terribly competitive and men get regularly rejected, too, I think it's sometimes difficult for male artists to see that their female counterparts have even slimmer chances of earning a living and receiving recognition.

The silver lining here is the internet. If you're willing to work outside the normal avenues (academia, galleries, etc...) the internet makes it possible to do your own thing and find an audience on your own terms, without the help of any art world elitism. And if you're persistent enough maybe it's even possible to earn a living and garner some recognition while dancing to your own tune.

I often think that the elite sexist art world is coming undone at the seams anyway. Today you can teach yourself art techniques by watching YouTube videos, reading articles or books; it's totally unnecessary to pay tuition (or go into extreme debt) for special training. And you can show your work on the internet, a gallery is no longer the only way to get your images in front of eyeballs. Art schools and galleries will continue to exists only if they remain relevant and useful to the (whole) art community.

Quiet Contemplation (2012)

THE LE SIGH: How has being a woman influenced your work?

Honestly, I wonder what kind of work I'd be making if I were male. I have no idea. I've considered releasing work under a male pseudonym, maybe I will, maybe it would show in the work. This line of thinking makes me wonder what type of work Ray Johnson would have made if he'd been born Ramona, instead.

Gender is fundamental to identity and expression, on a physical/body level and on a socialization/experience level. But since we generally only get to experience life as one sex, and thus have no experiential basis for comparison, it seems impossible to pin it down.

When I was younger I always felt like a tomboy, just one of the guys. Most of my friends were male and I didn't spend much time thinking about womanhood. Now I'm 26 and in a happy, long-term partnership with a wonderful man. I can see that masculine and feminine energy are very different, but complimentary--equally powerful but not alike. Of course this must translate into the work.

So, the older I get the more feminine I feel, the more I can see evidence of a 'woman's touch' in my work. I've always loved delicate, hidden, small things; details, nuance. I'm not interested in making murals or huge installations. I'm not trying to stun anyone with the sublime or the larger than life. I very much enjoy making abstract work, but I'm more interested in narrative and illustration. I've always felt closest to images that make me feel something, rather than ones which emphasize technical perfection or great skill.

Seed Stone (2010)

THE LE SIGH: Tell us about your involvement with the WAFA Collective.

BS: WAFA is one of the most fulfilling things I've ever participated in. The academic/professional side of art left me feeling sad and cold. I guess it's natural to become frustrated and isolated when you're operating within a system based on extreme competition and scarcity of opportunity. WAFA implicitly rejects the competitive side of art and the skeezy business realm. The friends I've made there keep me grounded and remind me of why I started making art in the first place. It feels like we're all on similar journeys, and what a comfort it is to have a group of like minds to share the ups and downs with.

Many thanks to Brandi Strickland. Click here for her full portfolio.

Written by Diana Cirullo