Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Brian Dettmer & A New Take On Art

Brian Dettmer is a force to be reckoned with. One website calls him “part artist and part surgeon.” His sculptures are truly unlike any I’ve ever seen. While I am no artist myself, and am not always fond of ridiculously elaborate art made from recycled objects (I’ve seen far too many pop can sculptures at a high school level where kids glue random cans and hunks of metal together and call it “art”) I can honestly say that Brian’s work intrigues me. It’s unique, it’s different, it’s creative.

While I can’t argue exactly what problem Brian solves with his work, I can argue that just as other artists’ work is necessary, Brian’s sculptures allow those with analytical, detail focused minds, to be satisfied when looking at art. Art, especially, is always evolving, always changing, and artists are always being challenged to come up with new ideas on ways they can entertain and bring joy to onlookers world wide. And in my opinion, Brian does just that.

Maybe part of the reason I was so drawn to Brian’s work is because he got his start right here in Chi-town. He went to Columbia College, and a lot of his artistic knowledge and skill most likely stemmed from his education there. At first, his focus was on painting. Little did Brian realize that by working a part time job at a sign shop would most likely alter the course of his artistic career for the rest of his life. This little ounce of luck, coincidence, fate, or whatever you want to call it, sparked the idea of incorporating Braille, Morse Code, and other forms of coding into his work. “His work began to explore the relationship between text, images, language, and codes,” which eventually lead him into using newspaper as a type of media, and eventually, you guessed it- books.

Brian describes his creative process as he began to use this new type of medium: “As I began to use books, I would rip pages out, feeling somewhat guilty when I would have the discarded crust of a book spine left over. I began to look at the book itself as a material to investigate and would seal them up and carve holes and shapes into them. One day I can across a landscape and decided to carve around it, then a figure emerged below and I kept going, kept excavating.”

I can almost see him sitting there, almost playfully tearing out pages in books, seeing vivid images in his mind, having that distinct moment of insight, and beginning to piece his work together.

He describes the same moment in a different interview, saying: "I was playing around with a block I had made out of an old encyclopedia. As I carved down through the cover and into the text, I came across an image of a landscape. I left it in place and carved around it. A few pages down, another figure emerged."

It was almost as if the work made itself, and he was just there as a puppet. I’m sure he had no idea that his childlike instincts of ripping out pages of books would lead to a new form of art.
Brian's work; in the process.
Brian is intrinsically driven, with a deep love for language and a deeper skill for art. He says, “I want the work I do to push the book far enough to become something new. I want to expose, re contextualize and amplify the power of the original without canceling it out. At the same time, I feel a certain obligation to release as much power or energy from the material as possible to justify cutting up a book.”

His creative process has now extended to folding, stacking, and rolling paper. He sometimes melts down cassette tapes and uses them to make unique sculptures, as well. The media and those in his field seem to be responding extremely positively to his work; he has had exhibits world wide and his popularity is continuing to grow. And yet Brian still seems extremely modest and humble regarding his creativity. Clearly an intelligent man (he graduated from Columbia with a BA in fine arts in ’97; his intelligence undoubtedly adding to his creativity) in an interview, when asked what was next for him in, he wittily responded: “dinner.”

As Andreasen describes, “creative people do not crave the absolutism of a black and white world; they are quite comfortable with shades of gray. in fact, they enjoy living in a world that is filled with unanswered questions and blurry boundaries.” (31) As time goes on, I see Brian continually comping up with new ideas, painting the world all shades of gray, and pushing the boundaries of art just as he has in the past.


1 comment:

  1. I recently attended an undergraduate conference where a student gave a presentation on publishing and how small publishing companies are changing the way books function physically and digitally in order to engage contemporary readers. I was very much reminded of those books when I ran across this post: I feel that perhaps one of the ways this creative product solves a problem is by challenging today's readers to take another look at how texts function in their physical manifestations. I really appreciate the various ways you have included our readings and lectures in this discussion of Dettmer's work. After this afternoon's discussion, I wonder what motivates Dettmer extrinsically (as you mention the intrinsic)? Overall though, this post is great!


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