20 questions with Brendan Monroe

July 9, 2015

Brendan Monroe is an artist who lives and works in Oakland,CA with his wife (another awesome artist) Evah Fan. We’ve been fans of Brendan’s work for a long time and it was a pleasure to have him as artist of the month. Through his paintings, drawings, prints, illustrations, sculptures, murals, and installations, Brendan takes us into his world and what a great place it is to visit. His cast of faceless beings can easily be any one of us; walking, sinking, spinning, disintegrating, swimming, or just sitting there chilling. We asked him 20 questions to find out more about the man behind the work. Enjoy!

Can you remember the first piece of art you saw that had an effect on you?
Hard to say but my parents used to take me to this yearly parade in Santa Barbara, the Summer Solstice Parade. I remember pretty clearly the guys who would have these huge paper mache heads and they would wear all kinds of colorful clothes. That’s a pretty early one, I always thought those were really cool and wanted make one for myself when I was a kid.

When did you start making art? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
When I was young. I didn’t always know I could be an artist though. I thought for a long time I would have to do a practical job and then only do art on weekends. Sometime in junior college I was lead to believe that art or commercial art and design could be a career.

There is such a dream-like quality to your work and I was wondering if you get inspiration from your own dreams? what was the last really memorable dream you had?
I do sometimes, especially for narratives if I want to include something like that in my work. Or actually for most feeling, sense, whatever you call it too. The last memorable one was kinda sexy, I’ll just say that. I think I recently had one about dinosaurs too, but that might be because I watched Jurassic Park.

Competitors, 11.25 x 11.75 in / 28.5 x 29 cm – acrylic on paper

The figures in your work have gone from these sort of recurring characters to these faceless beings. Who are these people and why do you think you’ve shifted in this direction?
Oh, they’re always different beings who live there. They’re basically my inhabitants to the worlds or scenes I make. They’ve lost their features, like faces or hands and feet because they’ve become more simplified. They’re still related but I’ve found that I like them without those things because they really don’t need them. They’re very understandable without having to have eyes or other human features.

Islands Spread

You work in a variety of mediums from your paintings and drawings to wood sculptures, illustrative work, and even installations. Is it easy for you to bounce around like that? Do you think it keeps things fresh?
I do think it keeps things fresh and I think it would be difficult to stick to one thing actually. I like the idea that being an artist means that your ideas and portrayals are important, so long as whatever medium you use can help achieve that. So it keeps it challenging and gets new ideas flowing all the time.

Do you have favorite materials that you use?
Ink and white gouache on paper lately. For color it’s usually on paper with acrylic. I use brushes most of the time for both and not so often pens, unless maybe it’s for sketches. I also like wood for sculptures because it’s got some inherent beauty and life in it.

You did a residency in the desert a couple years ago. Can you tell us about what it was and what you were working on?
Yea, I was in Joshua Tree, I was working on a black and white comic there. It was going to be the third in a series of wandering narrative stories. I’m a few spreads into it and sketched out most of it, but I put it down and it’s been hard to pick up again. I still want to complete it though. I also did a bunch of desert studies and observations of details.

There is definitely a science fiction vibe in your work that I feel a nerdy affinity towards. Have certain books or films been an inspiration?
Ah, the usual, like Star Wars and such. Then some stuff like the Wheel of Time or the Hobbit. I’m more inspired now by the real science happening. I usually follow the news with these things and I like to think of my own science fiction, or just science related work now. My favorite way to relate to it is to stay very close to reality and just branch out a little.

Red Moon – 21 x 30.25 in / 53 x 77 cm – acrylic on paper

You have been living in Oakland, CA for awhile now. What’s that like and do you think it affects your work?
Hard to say when you live in a place for a long time, everything sort of becomes normal. I feel like I have to work really hard here, but I think that could also be me and the general United States. There’s good weather and good people so I like it.

Do you meditate?
Not so much, but sometimes in the morning it takes me a really long time to get out of bed. I can wake up and just lie there for an hour thinking about the day before getting up.

Flowers of Repetitive Motion – approx 6 x 6 in / 15 x 15 cm each – acrylic on paper

Any rituals you do when you work on art or prepare for something new?
Lately I’ve been just keeping the sketches rough and trying to go at it fast. It’s really hard though for me to keep up that momentum. I tend to be someone who can labor over getting something right, over and over again. I’ll keep doing the same thing till I like it. That’s when I slow down. Anyway, not so many rituals, maybe coffee, that’s a good one actually.

What are you currently working on?
I’ve been working on a series of ceramic sculptures for a while. There’s a show opening in September at Heath Ceramics in SF. It’s kind of amazing because they’ve invited me in to work in their clay studio to build these big sculptures. They’re starting to take up some space there too. They’ve been super generous and awesome to work with.

What do you do on a day off from working?
Usually the boring stuff like clean the house. Evah (wife) and I like to go hike up in the Oakland hills a lot though. Or explore neighborhoods through the secret stairs. There’s a bunch of cool stair paths that cut through the houses here up and down the hills.

Shrub, Ink and Gouache on Paper, 8.5″ x 6″, 2013

What astrological sign are you? Do you relate to it?
Taurus, and Year of the Monkey. I don’t think about it too much. I can be stubborn sometimes I guess, but I think it’s more just that I usually know what I want, with and image or sculpture, or product to purchase, whatever. I’m careful sometimes. Usually I can put off lots of small boring tasks because I want to accomplish something bigger. I can focus on work only sometimes if I really like it for long periods of time… I don’t know what astrology that relates to.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
I like watching car race movies. Like I just watched Initial D (the live action) again. I like anime stuff too. I don’t feel guilty about it though.

If you could have any superpower what would it be?
Probably to control time. I’m not sure it’s the best, but I always feel like I wish there was more time and more of me. Second choice would be to make two of myself whenever needed.

Canyon, ink and gouache on paper, 13 x 10″

Who are some of your favorite artists currently?
I’ve been looking at some ceramics lately and Takuro Kuwata is doing some amazing work. Painting, Vija Celmins, Sol Lewitt (more like drawing). Sculpture, Martin Puryear, Tara Donovan.

Do you have any favorite quotes or mottos?
Not really. Lately I’ve been telling myself to ‘be more efficient’. I don’t know if I’ll ever get that right though.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully I’ll have a nice studio space. I have no idea what I’ll be making, but I hope it’s art related. I actually like making most things, so it could be other stuff too. I want it to be art though.

What would be your last meal before execution?
Hm, chocolate probably. Or coffee with some kind of cake or donut.

We made this rad letterpress print with Brendan, signed and numbered edition of 50.

You can get one HERE

See more of Brendan’s available work