INTERVIEW: BRENT ESTABROOK
Twisting and Turning with Brent Estabrook
BORN IN 1985, BRENT EASTBROOK DID ART BEFORE BECOMING A DENTIST ONLY TO DO AN IMMEDIATE U-TURN AND BECOME AN ARTIST. IF LOOKING AT TEETH TAUGHT HIM ONE THING, THEN IT IS TO FOLLOW ONE’S HEART AND TRUE PASSION IN LIFE, FOR LIFE IS JUST TOO SHORT NOT TO! BRENT’S PAINTINGS OF TOYS, TEDDY BEARS AND SKULLS ARE BUT TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN REALLY.
Brent, with your latest series of works we enter a colorful world of childhood toys and a rather nostalgic mood. Why’s that?
Ah yes, “Perpetual Recess” as I call it. The message behind these paintings is to pursue what you love in life, to follow your unadulterated childhood dreams and passions. To pursue what you want to pursue before anybody tells you that you must first “Go to college, get a good job, save for retirement, retire at 60 ... and only then can you have fun.” Fuck that, I am doing what I love now! I spent four long years and a ton of money apathetically attending dental school and immediately upon graduation I left dentistry to pursue my true passion in life: art. Through my art I hope to inspire others to follow their own passions. It makes for a truly great life. Also, my paintings just make people happy. I wanted to create something completely devoid of malice, something that could only produce happiness.
So, why art school before studying dentistry only to become an artist? They say life is about the journey not the destination, but why the long route?
Not the smartest decision. I took the “safe” and “comfortable” path through life. I was scared to pursue my passions because, at the time, art was not a viable career. In my world, nobody made a good living from art. School came very easy to me and I thought, “Well, I’ll go to school for four years, graduate and then make a bunch of money.” This is before I realized what I now believe about life. This is the reason the message of my work is to
pursue a passionate life because I sacrificed a lot of time and money to pursuing an uninspired “safe” and “comfortable” nine-to-five life.
One thing I found remarkable in the teddy bears in your portraits is that they have so much character. But then again, in the eyes of a child they have just that, don’t they?
Yes :). I choose teddy bears and stuffed animals as a subject because they have the lovely ability to touch the soul of all age groups. I try to bring as much life and character into each piece by creating physically three-dimensional, sculpted brushstrokes and implement very subtle classical portraiture techniques to add a lot of character and emotion.
You were born in “rock city” Seattle. What else does the rest of the world need to know about Seattle? What’s it like?
It rains, a lot! Those postcards you see from Seattle with blue skies... it’s a lie! Ha, it is not that bad. It is a fine example of great U.S. city. However, if you plan on traveling there, then go during the summer. If you are lucky, and get some nice sunny days, then it will be one of the most beautiful cities you’ve ever seen.
You reckon you had a happy childhood? Tell us a bit more
I lived a happy, very “typical” childhood. I mean that in the best way possible. I have a loving and supportive family. A mom and dad who put me
into art classes as a child, thank you, thank you, thank you, and great friends, many, if not all, that I still have today :)
What were your favorite toys?
I should probably say stuffed animals, but it was actually G.I. Joe. “GO JOE!”
What TV shows or movies would you stay home for?
Anything related to nature documentaries. I think nature is one of the most mind-blowingly complex and beautiful things to exist.
Your latest series seems quite a departure from “Frivolous Pursuits,” in which the skull frequently features. Is it? One could also argue they are merely two sides of the same coin.
They are two sides of the same coin. The stuffed animals and the series “Frivolous Pursuits” have the same message told in two different ways. I used to think I needed a ton of wealth to be happy and this was the driving motivation that led me to dental school. I recently became aware that the sole pursuit of wealth was frivolous and that life should be about the pursuit of your passions and experiences. I became much happier from this realization. Those pieces were the juxtaposition of the money collage, which represented the “normal” societal thought that money is the end goal, and a colorful skull, which represented the pursuit of an exciting, passionate life from now ... until death.
The skull is said to be a reflection of "your intimate connection to the fragility of life.” Could you tell us a bit more about that?
Ha, I made that statement sound more enticing than it really is. Fortunately, I have not had any close brushes with death. However, I spent a lot of time around it. The meaning behind that statement plays more to the stark realization I made in dental school. In year one you are placed in the human anatomy lab and you become very intimate with death. For approximately a year, my mornings consisted of examining what was once full of life and vigor, now dead, and six inches from my face. This was a constant reminder that life is limited, so why go about it doing something we don't really want to do? Like in a classical still life, I use the skull to remind that all life is finite and that we should choose to live a life full of color and excitement.
Should we read the text found on your website “We take life too seriously... be playful and pursue your true passions ... you'll be happier for it” in the same context? And how do you apply that in your daily life?
Ohhh, I love this question! Anytime I am in my studio I am playing and pursuing my passion. “Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life” is a very novel/ cliché things to say, especially here in America. However, it is an unequivocally true statement. I paint nearly seven days a week. It is fucking awesome! I have a deep urge to inspire others to follow what they love in life and the best vehicle I have for that is my art. If just one day a week, you pick up a pen and start to write the novel you have been thinking about, or watch a couple YouTube videos to learn a new guitar riff, I think you would be exponentially more happy for it. Put down your phone, stop checking your emails, and pick up that pen or grab your guitar!
On an art level, I love to explore new exciting techniques, styles and themes in my artwork. I truly believe this is why I have such a passion for art. The discovery process is exhilarating! I could never imagine staying stagnant in a certain style or theme. I will always strive to evolve and play with my artistic ability. And that thought makes me very happy :)
What are you working on at the moment?
How much time do we have!? I am working on so many different things! I am doing more stuffed animal collage pieces. However, I am creating them with more impressionistic, playful strokes. The focus of these pieces is going to be around the beauty of the brush strokes and rich oil-paint colors. I am really liking where they are going :)
Also I just started to dive into sculptures and I am about to start casting the first one! I am really excited to see where these go, especially on a large scale.
Lastly, I think the next direction I am going to go next is towards nature. I so admire the work of Monet and the other great impressionists, and love that they almost simply painted just for the sheer beauty of it. I think that is such a beautiful notion. I have this strong urge to paint vast flower gardens and want to recreate what highly admired art use to be: beautiful, paintings, not screen prints of soup cans.
Can we admire your work somewhere on display in 2016?
Yes! Art Basel Miami in December! I'll be showing with Mugello Contemporary at Context Miami. And I am possibly toying (no pun intended) with the idea of a show out here in LA around fall time.
INTERVIEWED BY PETER SPEETJENS