Brittany Tucker on Her Sources of Inspiration, Style, Life in Vienna and More

by Theodosia Marchant
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Today, we would like to introduce you to US-born artist Brittany Tucker. Brittany creates paintings that combine her likeness with that of a cartoonish image of a generic white man. She misrepresents the white figure to address the uneasy relationship between American blackness and whiteness and to offset the stereotypical characters from minstrelsy. By rendering herself realistic, she makes herself the primary subject while the white man is the joke of the painting. The awkward situations highlight the growing divide between the races and the sexes in the post-Obama-Trump era. 

Brittany Tucker (born in 1996 in Brooklyn) received a BA at Bard College (2018). She has had numerous solo and group exhibitions in the US and worldwide.

Brittany! Thank you for taking the time to speak to me. Could you describe yourself to those who do not know you?

I am an artist from Brooklyn, but I’m currently living in Vienna, Austria. I primarily work with painting and I tend to mix different forms of representation. At this point, I’m mostly working with mixing realistic figurative painting with cartoons or line drawings. 

What is a regular day like for you?

On a regular day, I like to have some breakfast and then go to my studio and paint. It’s often a lot more complicated than that. I try to incorporate as much self care as possible, such as running, meditation and journaling. I’m usually full of angst and dread, so those things help me function a bit better. Then after painting, I’ll either go to an art opening if I’ve heard of one, or go home and cook some dinner. 

Can you describe your artistic journey and what drove you to choose this career path?

My mom is an artist, she paints super realistic portraits. She always encouraged me to do the same. I started painting a lot in high school. When I was eighteen, I saw Kara Walker’s installation “A Subtlety,” which really inspired me. I also kind of randomly was introduced to the artist Simone Leigh around that same time, she was a family friend of my boyfriend at the time. Seeing Black woman artists creating deeply meaningful works on a large scale really impressed me and gave me a path forward. I realised that there was space for someone like me in the art world, if I could claim it. 

What does your creative process look like?

I am usually inspired by either a memory or something I witness. The ideas come to me pretty fully formed as paintings. I then try to figure out what my interests are within the idea, both aesthetically and emotionally. I’ll make sketches at that point. After that, I’ll do a few photoshoots with my phone for reference images, and then I’ll start painting. The process of painting leaves lots of space for improvisation, which is the best part. The last part of the process is a year or two later when I look at the painting and realise that I was expressing so honestly something I was unconscious of at the time, and have since become conscious of. It’s like a very slow mirror. 

Can we dig deeper into your unique painting style, inspiration, and message?

My style was born out of trying to express my relationship to complex emotional, institutional and social systems. Using multiple distinct styles in a single painting allows me to represent these relationships in a simple, clear way. There are these proposed dualities (white/black, real/cartoon, woman/man) and when they come into contact and interact in the works, they kind of open up a world of nuance. So, I’m basically inspired by what I see, feel, experience and remember. The message is the works and it’s still being written. 

What are the first things that come to your mind as necessary in your studio?

I would have previously said that I only need paints, brushes and a canvas. Now, I’m realising that it’s the creature comforts that allow you to spend long days and nights in the studio. I think a hot water cooker is pretty important, as well as a small couch. Good light is a key ingredient. 

Which of all places where your art was exhibited is the most memorable, and why?

When I moved back home to NYC after college, I was desperate to sell my work somehow. I replied to an advertisement on an art message board where you could “apply” to pay like five dollars per painting to be in a show at this weird loft/ performance venue/ squat in Greenpoint. The owner was this super eccentric grey haired dude with two white wolf-like dogs. I ended up showing there like three times. I did not sell a single painting. I just remember him telling me this long story about how he’s friends with Louie C.K (this was post cancellation) and how he had left just before I got there every time. 

Name one of the most memorable reactions regarding your work.

I don’t have a most memorable reaction. I like it when people tell me their interpretations of the work. It makes me feel like the work I’m making has a life beyond me. 

What challenges do you feel you face as a working artist?

There are so many challenges, but I think the hardest one has been my relationship with myself. Being your own boss sounds cool, but I’ve really struggled with learning how to treat myself kindly. I would never expect perfection from an employee, but I expect it from myself. I’m learning over time where to draw the line. Sometimes less is more. 

What advice would you give to artists just starting?

Believe in yourself and have hope for the future. If you already have those down, Kara Walker once mentioned in an interview that one of her teachers had her make one hundred drawings in a day. When I get stuck, or I’m starting something new, I’ll do that. 

What does success mean to you?

Success would be to make work that is as meaningful and beautiful as the work I’ve seen that touches me and motivates me to keep going. 

What is your approach to social media?

I haven’t really figured out my approach yet. I just try to be honest and not project a version of myself that isn’t real. 

Name three artists you follow and their journey on Instagram.

I’m a big fan of the painter Cheyenne julien, I don’t know him at all, but Snakebone makes great drawings. I’ve been following Virtualtai since like 2017, and I just saw her super interesting show in Berlin at Kraupa-Tuskany-Zeidler

What simple pleasures bring you alive?

One of my absolute favourite things to do right now is buying cheap flowers from the grocery store. Sometimes they’ll have normal flowers in a super great colour, or they’ll have some totally random flower you would never expect. It’s really meditative to take care of them and watch them bloom. 

What do you dream about?

My actual dreams are usually really complicated and anxiety inducing. My waking dreams mostly involve helping others, whether that’s through truth telling in my art, or by being able to fund or be a part of artistic projects that are charitable. 

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear:

POLITICS – “The Personal is Political”
RELIGION – I’m not religious, but I find value in ritual and tradition. 
SEX – I’m a big fan of saying things are “better than sex” right now. 

Name a book or film which grabbed your attention recently and why.

I’m one of the weird people that really liked Ari Aster’s “Beau is Afraid”. It’s really long and there’s a lot there. I’ve never seen such a clear representation of the catastrophic thinking that comes with intense anxiety. There’s a certain logic to anxiety and the film follows that logic very well. 

What’s next for Brittany Tucker?

I’m starting a new series soon for my show at Steve Turner LA in April. I’m really excited about it. 

Finally, is there anything else you would like to share?

I want to recommend Jack Whitten’s book “Notes From the Woodshed.” It’s his studio notes from 1962 to 2017. So many gems. So comforting to read someone else’s thoughts. 

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