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Alumni Spotlight: BRENDAN SULLIVAN

Charis Carmichael Braun (2008) interviewed Brendan Sullivan (2018) to explore what Brendan sees: a glance at home plate, and then eyes towards the bleachers and points...


The paths of Brendan's interests in life thus far seem to move together on parallel, but different, tracks - which is an aspect of what he is exploring in his current artwork. Brendan says, "I am very outgoing, but I guess I need to observe my surroundings at first from the sidelines." He enjoys the fastball-pitch of meeting new people and getting to know them, but also needs to head back into his own “dugout” to process and refuel. Brendan brings together separate things in his artwork, too: in his statement he indicates he is aiming towards monumental strength underscored by soft and curious vulnerability. He also said he uses "human and animal forms together with old baseball leather and industrial elements to express the dichotomy of vulnerability and strength. Part of me is probably part labrador."


BRENDAN:


I grew up in a small town outside Boston: your typical suburban landscape. It was a good upbringing, but I think the most peculiar thing is when one realizes it's all a facade: that there is just as much darkness on that sunny street there as anywhere else. I think this was something I always knew, deep in my gut - I’d be looking at things and thinking, what is really happening here? The exterior is not always reflective of the interior, the darkness of suburbia. It was a huge part of my artwork at one point. At the Academy, when I heard Peter Drake talk about his paintings, I realized that I might not have been the only one thinking about under-the-suface realities.



I grew up working as a landscaper, then stone mason, then carpenter. Eventually I realized I could make more meaningful things without breaking my back which I found in the form of painting at UMass Amherst. I fell in love with the magic of oil paint, specifically realism. This era of new discovery commenced after a failed college athletic career in lacrosse in 2009.


Although the masonry and carpentry had a modicum of creativity, it didn't satisfy me as having that mystical and profound quality that painting and sculpture did. It didn't speak to me in that seductive and intoxicating voice. It also had a limit, when it was finished, we packed up and went home. It just existed without interpretation.



The magic thing about painting from the start was how you could never quite understand all of it. From the technique to the subject, even when you finished a piece yourself, it never quite made complete sense, there was always more to put interpreted or explore. Which usually went into the next painting, or at least started an interesting conversation.


Looking back, I put in the same discipline to art that I did into my athletics. I kept an immense amount of rigor and “first one in, last one out” attitude, and progressed at a solid rate which really solidified artmaking as a passion for me. Towards the end of my college career I was going to NYC every other weekend, checking out galleries and openings instead of partying. This was really in part due to a program called NYPOP at UMass run by Jerry Kearns, a good friend of the NYAA who helped quite a few of us get to NYC to pursue our artistic careers and further our education.


This is the first sculpture Brendan made: "Home Safe Home (The Umpire)"

Even to this day, I suppose I really identify as someone who works with their hands. It seems like I'm working, making art, cooking, gardening etc. I'm happiest in a state of movement and building. I really have to stop and think before I take on a new project or interest, because I have a really obsessive nature which can be destructive to other projects (projects that I need to finish!). I got really into building frog ponds a few summers ago; while I may be phasing out of that, the painting and sculpture remains.



When I was at the Academy (2016-2018), there were these little moments of clarity that stunned me: I remember Wade breaking down painting as ‘smearing around mud with weasel hair on a stick’, and listening to Alyssa Monks talk about how painting is just ‘water and stone’ (which was reference in James Elkins book, What Painting Is). I think that simplifying this activity we were all doing in means like this was kind of one of those ah-ha moments for me. Painting has so much attached to it, but the act is very simple and unattached to anything. These moments allowed me to see I was in this group of people who had distilled skill in this really simple - but strange - thing as a means of representation. I love the fact that art making and art history could have such a spectrum of thought depending on how you looked at it, and to see the generations of artists before who had figured it out and passed on the knowledge.


Making art allows me to get extremely close to unconscious thought in my own head. At present, my work explores the ever-changing state of American masculinity, the rituals and tradition within its history. Reflecting upon my own experiences as an athlete, manual laborer and male, I question societal expectations and norms. Art feels like the only thing I can really control, building my own little world to live in. It came to me as a form of healing, out of pain, like most people. I think it still remains that but with many additional parts now that align more with my philosophy on life, spirituality, imagination.

I think about the difference between my painting and sculpture, trying to find the link and commonality between them. Painting is this very still portal, no matter how realistic it is, it always feels like a fragment of time or encapsulated emotion. I always had to do a lot more thinking about technique and concept in painting because of this. Sculpture feels very different for me, you can move around it, look high and low, create your own experience with it in the environment it's in. because of this, it is a little easier on my mind to make, but physically taxing… I struggle with how they'll talk to each other but nevertheless keep making both.


 

A good day for me is when I can get a workout in (weights, yoga, cycling), a long time making art in my studio, some type of time in nature, and socializing. If I can hit all four in one 24-hour period, it's a perfect day. I took up meditation last year which has been a blessing. I have spent of 13,000 minutes meditating since August 2022. I keep things simple and stress free with a massive amount of my time and energy going into making my art. I have been teaching myself how to wood carve over the past year, slowly but surely. In the summer I tend to slow down, enjoy gardening, and swimming. Reading with a lot of delicious espresso in front of me. But next January, I might need a bit more coffee - I'm excited to say I'll be the Eric Fischl Artist In Residence at West Nottingham Academy from January to June 2024, teaching sculpture.


I'm currently reading "The War of Art" by Steven Pressfield. A rather well known but effective book that I suggest to any creative. I'm also meandering through Marcus Aurelius' "Meditations," as well as a book by Rick Rubin called "The Creative Act."

 

As of this writing, I’m currently processing a few hundred baseballs to make more sculptures. During the pandemic, I collected thousands of old baseballs in local little league fields across Massachusetts. Forgotten and stained with an earthly patina, often signed by their former adolescent owner, they each have their own unique pattern, tone, and history. I'm in the preliminary stages of planning out a large-scale serpentine piece. I have that pre-build excitement which is always good. I am hoping to show all my recent baseball sculptures in an exhibition somewhere in NYC. That's the main goal right now. The only thing I know is that I'll never stop making art. It's a driving force in my life and I'm just the passenger.



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