24 February 2012

Irresistible Windows: Katherine Brannock

Ballpoint sketch (2009)
   What are we doing? And why are we doing it? Are we doing the right thing, the best we can do? Are there limits to what we can achieve in the present moment or in the future? And even as we begin to change and grow, what is it that tries to hold us back?
   Katherine Brannock is relatively new to the art game, but she has jumped in full throttle, refashioning the rules, and bringing up a whole slew of new questions for us to chew on. In this sense, Brannock presents us with a brave work, dancing in the wilderness of our subconscious, underlining our fears, and beckoning us to acknowledge those fears and to move on despite them. Brannock achieves all this by delving into her own psyche and bringing up discoveries that please the eyes to no end, partly because of her deftness with ballpoint pens. We had the chance to ask Brannock a few questions, and we present that interview here for you.


YowzerYowzer: Okay Katherine, thanks for taking the time out to talk, and even more importantly, thank you for making and sharing your art. We believe that it exhibits a level of graceful communication that gives a positive energy to its viewers.

Katherine Brannock: Thanks. I really appreciate the kind words as well as your genuine interest in my work. 

Ballpoint sketch (2009)
YY: First question- We're curious whether that's something you consciously aim for, making something that people get energy from, something viewers can relate to, or whether you are more focused on your own expression, and whoever it affects positively is just a fortunate result. How would you describe your focus while working?

KB: Creating a line of communication between myself and the viewer has always been of the utmost concern. I never really know what I’m communicating until the entire piece or series is completed, but I can honestly say that my goals have always centered around connecting with the audience, with the hope that the viewer can derive something in the work that allows them to either channel a piece of themselves out into the open, or find an avenue with which to communicate hidden parts of themselves into the open more easily, effortlessly, unabashedly. I want to eliminate fears of communication in my viewers by exposing as much of myself as I can with the intention of inspiring others around me to take the next step in closing the gap between relationships and the many forms they take. By exposing intimate parts of myself and my psyche, I feel that grants others the ability to do the same, and not so much in a narcissistic sense, but in a supportive, encouraging sense... If I can do this, you can most certainly do this.

Micron pen sketch (2006)
YY: Well, in that same humble, encouraging sense, we think you're doing an awesome job, and not only thematically, but visually as well. How did you come to start your pen sketches? Was it some clever scheme to make your pieces stand out? Also, if you could share how your pen-work has developed thus far? What pens did you start out with, and which do you find best to work with now, and why?

KB: Sketching with ballpoint pen was initially an accident. In 2009, I started keeping a sketchbook for an illustration class with the intention of using pen as a way of training myself to render an image perfectly the first time. But in a short while, the sketchbook evolved into something completely off-topic. I would typically sketch during my lunch break while I was working full-time as a graphic designer. It was a way for my to iron out some of my frustrations from working at a 9-5 job. Bic pens were always easily accessible, and over time, the more I used them, the more I realized how versatile they were in achieving soft, smoky, subtle gradients. But what I loved most was how the ballpoint pen afforded so much control.
   But my first explorations with any pen began with the Pigma Micron series from Sakura. I started a body of illustrations for a children’s book [The Kualitees of Kukiluk] using only the 005 disposable rapidograph [a technical pen often used in building sketches for the design and construction of buildings]. Once again, I was most interested in the permanency of the mark-making. Once a decision was made, you were stuck with it, and if there was something about the imagery that didn’t sit well, it was imperative that the “mistakes” were transformed into “successes”. I think that’s when using pen became extremely intoxicating for me, I grew obsessed with how an image would accidentally develop, and the surprise of a finished piece was always the most rewarding part of the process. Every time the conclusion was the same, the pieces that initially seemed like the biggest failures, turned out to be the greatest achievements. It was just a matter of changing perspective and beautifying the aspect of the image that once seemed irreversibly damaged.

YY: Sort of a spontaneous, stream-of-consciousness idea?

KB: Yes. I’ve always felt that the work I do isn’t entirely from me, but rather some larger stream of consciousness that I’m fortunate enough to tap into and translate. I certainly feel that the more unique elements of my work, in regards to the imagery, are definitely pieces of who I am depending on what time in my life they were created. But the further I explore the work and push the boundaries of what I do, I’m seeing that the characters developing in my art have very detailed personalities as well as lives of their own. One of my long-term dreams is to clearly convey the lives of these characters not only through illustration but through my writing.

You Lift Me Up (2011)

YY: What can you tell us about your piece titled You Lift Me Up. Funny thing about this one, everyone we've shown it to, at first thinks it's just a lovely aquarium scene of two fish, but after a minute we notice their eyes widening when they notice the legs, and the human aspect, and that's when they begin to feel out a story.

KB: This was a major breakthrough piece for me, in that it was the first of its kind on many levels. For starters, this is the first ballpoint pen piece I created entirely with archival, acid-free materials. Everything else I had done up until this point was limited to my sketchbook and a Bic ballpoint pen. Secondly, this was the first piece of its size, twice as large as anything else I had attempted. Lastly, this was the first piece I created with any hint of color, even though it is a rather muted palette.
   While I was finishing up this piece, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of fertilization as well as the different ways we are impregnated and transformed by thoughts and/or experiences. I felt that the two characters, depicted in the work, exhibited an open, consensual exchange of sorts, imbuing the piece with an undercurrent of sexuality. But I wouldn’t say that this is the only way to read the piece. I’ve come across many instances where people have astonished me with what they saw in the work, and it’s never a wrong answer... sometimes I wish I was better at interpreting my own work.

YY: And what other materials was it was made with? 

KB: Shellac ink with a walnut ink stain. 

Expect the Unexpected (2011)

YY: Your piece titled Expect the Unexpected is simply awesome. It continues your work with ballpoint, shelllac, walnut ink stain, and also employs gold ink. What else can you tell us about it?

KB: This was the first time I started to consider the background of my work, but more specifically, the world belonging to the creatures in my work. My intention is to further my work in this direction, exploring landscape more and more, with the hope that I can adequately construct a world as vivid and distinct as the characters which live in it. 
   While working on this piece, I kept thinking about the kinds of universal questions we all ask ourselves at some point. Who am I? Why are we here? What am I doing? How does it all end? The little griffin represented a universal traveler, riddled with anxious anticipation for the oracle’s impending fortune carried delicately in her mouth. This felt like the beginning of what was to be a long journey.

YY: Some of your pieces call to mind Eastern deities, Hinduism, and mysticism. I'm curious how you would describe your religious or spiritual leanings.

KB: Both my parents are Roman Catholic, and I actually went to Catholic school from kindergarten 'til I graduated from high school. This definitely instilled a sense of some sort of indefinable grandness outside of the realm of our understanding. But I have since broken away from more institutionalized forms of religion, because I didn’t like the idea of limitations on thought and spirituality, especially if there was supposedly some force out there that knew no boundaries. Fortunately, both my parents were very open-minded and embraced other cultures, philosophies and religions with respect and genuine interest. My father frequently read to me as a child, and my favorite literature always had to do with foreign and ancient mythologies, be they Greek, Egyptian, Middle Eastern or otherwise. I also had a strong affinity for fables, folklore, and epic adventures. I’ll always subscribe to an idea that each of us is truly playing a part in some grander story starring ourselves, and that there are signs all around us, indicating who we are, where we must go, and what we must do with our lives, no different from the oracles that guide a protagonist through his or her destiny. Everything I’ve encountered in my life feels utterly fantastical, and I really want to show people through my work, that their lives are one and the same with that perspective.

Waning Warrant (2012)

YY: That's grand! Your pieces certainly come across as rich in mythology, but now we see that it isn't a mythology that you've borrowed, but rather one that encompasses many, a global mythology, that at the same time manages to be personal to you. Another of the facets of your work that deepens it in an intriguing way is that despite the formality of the layout, the precision of the lines, and the soft pastel-like hues, these are not pictures of serenity and sweetness, but rather they often depict scenes of  tremendous action, conflict, and sometimes even gruesome violence. Practically every piece contains contrasting desires and motives. They're each like a window onto a mini-alternate universe, with a delicious ambivalence, and that's obviously a big part of why art-lovers respond so positively to your pieces, because much art, we feel like we've stepped away from our day-to-day lives, even though we are still dealing with very human issues. How do you measure your own success? In other words, how do you balance satisfaction with what you've done so far with the inspiration to further your work? If this seems like a total fan question, that's because it is. We're already hungry for more Brannock pieces.

KB: Thank you again for the kind words. I would say that I definitely take a lot of pride in my work, especially in terms of the process, but in terms of my feelings of satisfaction with the work, there’s a large part of me that wants to see where it will go. I feel confident with how far it has come just in the past two years, so there’s this subtle sense of urgency that pushes me to reach the next plane. The more people become interested in the work, the more I feel motivated to bring something new to the table that builds upon my previous work. My strongest motivation is most definitely the fans that demand something fresh, and it makes me really happy to think that there are people out there waiting for the next level of work. In a way I feel like I’m part of that audience too, excited to see what I will come up with, that’s really the most exciting part of the work, the surprise of what happens next.

Fear Filter (2012)

YY: The other three pieces we will display are "Simple Slight", "Waning Warrant", "Essence Ignition", and "Fear Filter". What can you tell us about those?

KB: Those are all pieces from the Harum Scarum show I just came back from in San Francisco. Each of the seven pieces in the series started with a very basic thread, then slowly evolved into something I’m still trying to make sense of. But, to give you an idea of how everything ties together, I started each piece with the budding trees, whose growth patterns are based off of alchemical symbols: essence, filter, earth spirit, to sublimate, crucible, to compose as well as the four seasons“Simple Slight” and “Waning Warrant” were originally “Summer’s Slight” and “Winter’s Warrant” but I changed their titles, because I was unable to complete all ten pieces for the February deadline- two of which were the other seasons, “Autumn’s Alliance” and “Spring’s Signal”. I changed the names at the last minute, thinking that the seasonal titles wouldn’t make much sense without all four being represented in the show.
   As I neared the finish-line of the new artworks, I began to realize what was going on in the series. Everything seemed to speak of a transformation, a purification if you will, but more importantly the idea of being caught in the middle of a transition period, and the fear attached to change, the new, the unknown. I didn’t understand why I was so drawn to alchemy at the advent of the series, I just understood that I needed to follow my gut and stop over thinking the imagery, otherwise I would never finish it in time. And as a result, the work showed me a side of myself that I had failed to acknowledge. I hope others will see that they’re not the only ones afraid of moving away from their more complacent spheres of influence.

YY: After completing four recent shows in San Diego and a San Francisco show, what is your mindset for your work now? Are there any long- term goals that you'd like to share? 

KB: This year proves to be a pretty packed agenda. I have two shows coming up in March: Picks of the Harvest over at Thinkspace Gallery in Culver City, and Everything Went Black, another San Francisco show. I may also appear at WonderCon [in Anaheim] in March, but that’s still up in the air. I’ve also agreed to create work for an endangered species benefit at Thinkspace Gallery in May. After those events, my main focus will be ComicCon, a group show with the West Coast Drawing organization in September at OCCCA [Orange County Center for Contemporary Art], and my earnest attempt to make it up to SF again for APECon in November.
   As far as long-term goals go, I try to approach everything with an open mind. I certainly have aspirations of landing a publishing deal. It’s always been a dream of mine to see my work professionally printed and represented by a respected publisher.    
   But at this moment in time, my life is truly centered around my work and doing whatever it takes to secure the time I need to produce for the audience, the curators, and myself. It’s a little nerve-racking at times, but I can always feel confident in the fact that I’m trying my hardest and doing my best at what’s humanly possible. 

Crucible Cradle (2012)

YY: And lastly, our infamous question about how you think art in San Diego could be nurtured. How do you think San Diego compares to other cities as far as exhibitions and the overall appreciative energy for artists?

KB: I haven’t shown enough work yet in other cities to provide a confident opinion concerning their attitudes, but as far as my hometown, I've noticed that people seem to be more concerned about how they will be perceived attending an art show, rather than focusing on the art, and the main attraction at a gallery opening is almost always the complimentary bar. I think if anyone were to change that mindset, we would have to start advertising art shows the same way one might advertise the Del Mar Fair or a music festival. If we wish to see San Diego’s art-scene grow and develop out of its awkward puberty stage then we need to push it out of its over-protective, over-selective, lofty nest and into the jet stream of the general public.

YY: Thanks for sharing your time and your insights. Cheers, Katherine!

KB: Thank you again for your interest! I appreciate all the really poignant questions.

[We will continue reporting on Katherine Brannock's fantastic work. In the meantime, you can see some of Brannock's new pieces at an exhibition in Culver City. We have listed info about that show on the Events page. Also feel free to visit her website at: katherinebrannock.com, and her blog at: katherinebrannock.blogspot.com.]

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