Q & A WITH BRIAN CAREY

You have proposed a single, labor-intensive, stereoscopic drawing for your residency with Makeshift. Where does your interest with this process come from and how does it inform this particular piece?

I first became interested in anaglyph (red and blue) stereoscopy after having been exposed to it in 3D comic books when I was twelve or thirteen years old. The ability of the process to create the illusion of three-dimensions made a lasting impression on me that would eventually lead to experiments of my own. At the same time, I remember that even at that age I had an appreciation for the kind of chintzy and gimmicky “spectacle” the images provided.

Anaglyph stereoscopy informs the piece because it creates the illusion of depth by way of surfaces in space and the concept I am working with relies on superficiality. The decision to create the piece as a drawing was made because I was intrigued with the idea of creating the illusion of three-dimensions by directly meditating on a two-dimensional surface. I also feel that creating the work by hand will give it a presence that would be lost if the image were to be output as a large format print.

The image that you’ve chosen to reproduce/translate depicts an actual piece of public sculpture that you recently happened upon at a mall in Grand Rapids, MI. What was it about this encounter that led you to this project?

To be honest, my initial encounter with the piece played out in a way that is probably all too common when we are confronted with pieces of public sculpture – I saw and was aware of it due to its location at the intersection of the two shopping concourses but felt no need for a closer look. It wasn’t until I needed to make a call outside one of the nearby stores that my attention fell on the sculpture in the distracted way that one tends to focus on something in the middle distance when on the phone. Once I was actually looking at the piece, it occurred to me that the presentation was completely wrong for a Minimalist sculpture. Although I had (and continue to have) no particular affinity for Minimalist sculpture, I knew that the point of such work is to elicit a somatic awareness in the viewer as they freely move around the object and experience it from a variety of different angles. Unfortunately, a series of benches and tables had been placed around and directly abutting the plinth in a way that made it difficult to have unencumbered access to the piece when walking around it and effectively discouraged viewing while sitting.

What struck me was how sad it was that this work of art had been so effectively incorporated into the interior design of the mall that it now only served as a kind of status decoration. It seemed as though it was somehow stranded there - ignored by the stream of shoppers walking by. I began to wonder if the sculpture was placed there in a calculated effort to somehow elevate the shallow activity of shopping by creating the illusion of sophistication, or, to put it another way, bringing culture to the masses in the service of materialism.

Capitalism is frequently targeted in your work. How do you reconcile the critique of an economic system in which you actively participate as both artist and consumer?

Although capitalism is a frequent target in my work I do realize that it is foolish for me to say that it doesn’t have its benefits. Many of us who are lucky enough to live in the First World have the luxury of having our needs met on a moments notice - I can drive to the store at any time of the day or night with the expectation that there will a reliable stock of food or other necessities for me to purchase. Is it possible that another economic system could provide similar benefits? I have no idea – I must leave that question to people who are much more intelligent and better versed in these matters than I am.

That being said, as a consumer I do feel that I have enough experience having been raised and living in this system to see that it has its drawbacks as well. Consumerism (in its most negative sense) has an undeniably corrosive influence upon both individuals and society as a whole. I am no stranger to the feeling that has been described as “imagined omnipotence” while in pursuit of an object of desire only to have the gnawing emptiness return almost immediately after it is acquired and I move on to my next, admittedly shallow, want. When I say this it is not my intention to suggest that I have somehow conquered my material desires and am now a completely centered individual – I realize that this is something that I will probably continue to struggle with the rest of my life. At the same time, however, I don’t feel that it is necessary for one to be a complete outsider in order to critique an economic system.

As an artist, it’s really hard for me to speak with any kind of authority. While it is my intention to make a living as an artist, this residency is really the first time I have put myself out there since graduation and I currently make ends meet in a non-art related job.

Your work has made repeated reference to a variety of highly recognizable cultural symbols from Corporate America, Hollywood, religion, etc. Do these symbols correspond to a broader system or concern?

No, I don’t think that they do. While I have undoubtedly referenced cultural symbols in my work, I feel that it has always been either in a self-referential way or for subversive effect both of which were in the service of the idea that I was currently working with. In my mind, I view each symbol as a one-off for the piece at hand no matter how many times I may call upon them in my work. For me, symbols are a kind of shorthand – while their use may signify a general approach I don’t think that they necessarily correspond to a broader system or concern in and of themselves.


On one level, I think that repetition informs my work because it is a large part of our daily lives whether we choose to recognize it or not.
— Brian Carey

In your artist statement, you say that you hold an ambivalent world view. Does this contradict an artistic practice that suggests otherwise?

No, not necessarily. While it is true that I do invariably come down on one side of the issues that I address in my work, I’m also aware that they are often much more nuanced than I could ever hope to understand and that I don’t have all of the answers. Also, I feel that art runs the risk of being too obvious and trite when it simply acts as a mouthpiece that states that such and such is bad. Instead, it is better to address an issue or idea in art by creating an awareness that encourages the viewer come to his or her own conclusions.

Much of your past work, including Epiphany and Conspicuous Consumption (featured above), rely on repeating images and patterns. How does repetition inform your work?

On one level, I think that repetition informs my work because it is a large part of our daily lives whether we choose to recognize it or not – as in Conspicuous Consumption. Paradoxically, repetition has also been a source of both anxiety and comfort for me over the years due to my having lived with obsessive-compulsive disorder since I was about ten years old. I think that, because of this, it is only natural that repetition should manifest itself in my artwork on either a conscious or subconscious level. 

Can you name an artist or a particular artwork that you recently discovered or rediscovered that has resonated with you in some way?

As I was speaking with an artist friend about my proposed project last summer he happened to mention that he had just finished reading David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters. Although I had been exposed to his work in my art history classes I had always viewed him as just one of the many pop artists whose relevance waned as the movement became passé. I was unaware of how extensively he had experimented with photography. Although I was aware of The Steering WheelI mistakenly assumed that it was simply an isolated, but successful, test and not part of a larger body of work. As I find myself incorporating photography into my art, I look forward to the opportunity to examine his work and his theories on optics more closely.

Posted on January 22, 2016 and filed under Q & A.