I met Australian artist Brett Ashby on social media. He now lives in the UK. There’s something about artists in the UK who have a street vibe www.brettashby.com. They seem to clash with the American view of the United Kingdom as home of the blue-blood upper crust. However, artists like Brett are regal in their own way. Here’s our cool chat …
MICHAEL: Hello Brett, your work is very fun and somewhat whimsical. It's inventive and you seem to be strongly inspired by pop culture. How do you describe your work?
BRETT: Michael, it has been said that my work is humorous and creates a great sense of curiosity. The creation of my work is through my photographic gathering on location through traveling where I photograph reality; it is in the details that a story is created. My art is in the details. I try to present a snapshot of reality. Collection of reality from photographic gathering is then the representation that can somewhat provide an experience of iconic themes or elements that you can connect with your present day surroundings. I describe the work as a cluster of the modern age, feathered by the events and details taken from any one location, hence the iconic execution that almost feels laughable on first experience. I get a great sense that these creations represent exactly what is in any one location and in real life. If you were to evaluate the expansion, ideological beliefs of a space or place and if you could line them up, well wouldn’t that be laughable?
MICHAEL: is there any sort of theme or commentary in your work or do you leave that up to observers to fill in the blanks?
BRETT: Themes are built from the viewer. I gather reality and represent this in the most functional image from the reality documented. In many cases, this becomes a symbol that allows the audience to connect the visual works back into their present reality. I do this through social symbolism or sub-conscience viewings within one’s surroundings, making a vivid, daring artwork more acceptable, in order for it to be viewed by a varied range of individuals.
The observer needs to place themselves, their lives and their experiences within the digital reality inside the art. For example, they need to consider the vivid view of their current reality and then look closely at all the fine elements which are available in the completed artwork to see the finer details that tend to get missed. Busy humans in busy locations, the attention to detail isn’t really on the priority list. On viewing of a script such as in my art, these details can be further understood. My art confronts reality; the viewer should take from it whatever they understand reality to be.
MICHAEL: How did you become an artist? Do you come from an artistic family? What was your first experience with art?
BRETT: As a child, I was exposed to my father building houses and designing household items out of wood and various materials. I dabbled in percussion, soccer and martial arts so that when it came to art, I looked for things that hadn’t been seen before and then tried to re-invent the traditional.
As well as this, I found myself surrounded by art with the company I kept and the places I lived and worked. Creativity stems all the way back from my ancestry, which in turn gave me the potential to be creative from a very early age. I’d be painting art on a bedroom door, building something new or making music to seek a creative lifestyle. I have been interested in the word “art” since a very young age. I think I started practicing art in grade one at primary school, when my first drawings and paintings of homes went on show in various staff and common rooms. It must be from these developments that I'm where I am today.
MICHAEL: Your work definitely has an edgy, street vibe to it. How do you capture this? Is this something you're doing intentionally? Do you have "street cred?"
BRETT: I personally am not a street artist, but I did grow up with street artists and I have a great appreciation for their work. I guess this resonates in my own work. The reason why the urban edge is in my art is because it’s in my reality. Due to my experiences in my youth, I have become aware of the commentary in the urban landscape and its art form. I represent this part of my art through photography and my painting style, as well as found objects, recycled materials, which all add to the edge in my work.
MICHAEL: Your work is very easy to turn into merchandising and it looks like you're heading in that direction. Is it possible to be a serious artist who also licenses and merchandises their work for commodities like tee-shirts, skateboards, coffee mugs etc.?
BRETT: To use my cap as a basis to answer this question - I’m not interested in the sale of the cap or the distribution of a cap (as ‘merchandise’). I’m looking at how a photomontage of a space, place and or one location/ icon can then travel or be seen through exploration on the exterior front facade of a living, walking human being. The reality of one location becomes a collection through the lens of a camera, to then appear as a garment that then becomes its own reality through traveling outside, outside of its origin, or further afield.
All of my works are original in the initial concept. I have one mug, one hat, one t-shirt, one handbag and one leather eye mask. These ideas explore, through photomontage, various ways the human race sees, uses and connects to the current reality in nature and their urban landscapes. I find a moving New York (As in my unisex cap titled ‘New Yorker’) very interesting as it walks through places such as Sydney, Russia, Sri Lanka (all places that I have documented in my art) in a way that the locals get a snap shot of New York on the head of a collector, which is an exchange/ separation of reality.
Therefore, I do not see my art as a commodity. After all, a ‘commodity’ is social language used to define my cap as merchandise. Such is and has been the struggle of many artists in dealing with fashion e.g. Elsa Schiaparelli, surrealist fashion designer, in reference to her hats. Society has made it a commodity, my art (Cap) is not a commodity solely based on it being a cap. To quote from Lukacs (History and Class Consciousness) – ‘The commodity can only be understood in its undistorted essence when it becomes the universal category of society as a whole.’
MICHAEL: Finally Brett, What are your plans for the future? Where do you want to go with your work?
BRETT: Currently I’m working on a series of pieces from my exploration of Europe, which I will look to complete in mid 2014. I have visions to continue my journeys across the USA as a follow up from my extensive tour in 2009. Through the support structures of the community and constant analysis of society, I feel my art is growing and I don’t know where or how it will end up, but I do hope it makes an impact. Where do I want to go with my work? I’ll leave that up to reality, after all that is what I document.
MICHAEL: Great. Thanks Brett. Cool chat.
BRETT: Thanks for your time Michael. It has been a great journey.
Check out Brett Ashby at www.brettashby.com