Derek Brahney Talks about New Studio, IMPOSTERS and the Process of Creating

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Derek Brahney is a multidisciplinary artist and conceptual illustrator. He is 35 years old, and grew up in New Jersey. He now lives and works in New York, in his studio New Studio, which creates conceptually-minded images, objects, and experiences for various commercial clients.

Derek Brahney

When and why did you start painting and sculpturing ?

I’ve been drawing and making things in different forms and levels of seriousness for as long as I can remember. I suppose it’s just the natural way I communicate and make sense of the world.

Why did you decide to go the independent route with New Studio ?

I think in the back of my mind I always knew I would end up working independently. When I was starting out, it wasn’t an immediate option for many reasons, financial and otherwise. So I worked towards it very slowly while having a full time job, then many small freelance jobs, chipping away until one day it finally seemed like the time was right.

“The Green Scare” by New Studio for Playboy

Are there any deeper thoughts behind the color choosing and placements of your brush strokes in your paintings ?

The process behind these works developed organically through experimentation and is very intuitive. I begin with a palette of colors and make hundreds of brushstrokes with paint on vellum, working quickly and not thinking too much. I then go through all of them and select ones that feel good to me in terms of shape or gesture, ‘perfect marks’ as I call them. Once I have this library of shapes I begin pairing them together in compositions, again just based on intuition and what feels right. I keep moving things around until some of the compositions start to stick and somehow begin to feel inevitable. Once I have these final compositions, I scan and enlarge them, then print and mount the images to custom cut panels which I pour resin over. In this way it’s sort of like ‘building’ an image. I look at the finished works as a hybrid of painting, sculpture and photography, a fusion of image and object.

New Studio has worked with some big names like: The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Huff Post, The New Yorker, Pentagram and Playboy, to name a few. Do you feel any pressure when workin with such well known names ?

When I was first starting to work with these clients there was of course that initial sense of pressure, like I’ve been waiting for an opportunity like this and I don’t want to blow it. As time goes on however, you get more comfortable and confident in your abilities and learn to trust the process. There is still a challenge with each project to come up with something new and interesting, often within an extremely tight timeline, but it’s a type of pressure that I thrive on. Constraints are great for creativity.

How do you come up with new ideas for your creations ?

I don’t really see it as coming up with ideas, I feel more like I search for missing pieces and connections that are waiting to be found. Sometimes it’s really just about quieting down and listening for things to speak to you in a certain way, observing and reflecting, asking questions like “what happens if I did this?” etc. I think what allows me to do that successfully is an intense attention to detail, filtered through my particular sense of humor, knowledge and life experiences.

Your “IMPOSTERS” series of fine art exhibition posters, is celebrating fake shows by fake artists at fake galleries. Can you tell me a little bit about the thought process behind that ?

There are a few thoughts that led to the IMPOSTERS. The project isn’t meant to take itself too seriously but I’ll try to explain my thought process behind it at least. 

First, I’ve always loved artist ephemera, catalogues and exhibition posters, they are a great way to collect and participate in art when you can’t necessarily afford to purchase original pieces. It was 2020 and everything was shut down. I had finished some brushstroke works and it didn’t look like I would be exhibiting them anywhere anytime soon, but I thought why not make exhibition posters as if I did? 

It seemed obvious to put my own name on the posters, but somehow didn’t feel right, so I created fake names using my initials instead. Then I thought I could create fake galleries too, and fake exhibitions from different times and places. I intentionally made the names and information sound just familiar enough that it could be real, and there are many subtle references to artists, galleries and things that most people won’t notice, but those who do would appreciate even more.

The fake names are where the series got its name, and I started thinking about imposter syndrome, the feeling of fraud that many artists work to overcome as they show their ideas to the world. The brushstroke works themselves are also imposters in a way, since they are photographs of paint.

Another aspect is the idea of ‘sympathetic magic’, where you try to manifest something happening in real life by physically making your own version of it. I would like to have many international exhibitions – now I have the posters to match, so I am one more step towards that goal.

And then finally, it also became a reflection on social media spectacle and the personas we perform online. I thought the falsity of it all would be extremely obvious, but was surprised that quite a few people, even some close friends, were completely fooled and sent me congratulations for my 1992 show in Cologne. It emphasized for me that the enormous onslaught of imagery by algorithm every single day makes it hard to separate fact from fiction, even when it may seem obvious.

I also want to credit my amazing wife, whose agency Ania et Lucie worked with me to design the posters.

Photos: Derek Brahney

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