Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman
Happy (yesterday) birthday to Artist Brian Sparrow! Brian has a traditional background in printmaking, but we’re really into his new black and gold symbolism series that has an Egyptian vibe. Ray & I met Brian at the Cotton Candy Machine’s Roebling Fair this summer, where we were all vendors. As soon as I saw his esoteric inspired art I wanted to know more. Keep reading to see his connection to black dogs and other symbols.
SHANON WELTMAN: It says on your website that you primarily do printmaking. Is that still accurate? What’s your favorite medium and why?
BRIAN SPARROW: Actually, I would still consider myself a printmaker but I really enjoy doing sculpture right now. I guess I’m sort of focusing on that. Just not worrying about what I’m making, what quadrant of art it’s in, and just sort of making it. Does that make sense?
SW: Mmhm. What led you to sculpture?
BS: I’ve always liked making little objects and things. I’m very into ritual objects, I’ve always wanted to make some of my own objects for my own work, in my own style. I like to think about sculpture in a sort of a very printmaker-ly way. So, with the coffins, where there’s a bunch of them, I like the repetition. They’re all sort of from the same matrix. Sort of like printmaking. There’s something interesting about one more, and then one more, and then one more.
SW: When did you start this new series that you’re working on now?
BS: I’ve been working on the same sort of series or body of work since, probably my sophomore year of college. Dogs and cryptic symbols.
SW: When was that?
SW: Can you explain the black dog symbolism and any other symbols that are personally important to you?
BS: Originally the black dog popped up in my work a lot. I just sort of liked dogs at the beginning, and a professor told me I should run with it. She kind of challenged me to put a black dog in every print I was making at the time. I was like, ‘okay yeah, sure I’ll do that.’ It sort of took a life of its own. And then everyone sort of assumed that this dog was a character for myself in my work, and so after a while that sort of became true. So now, it does usually stand for myself. Or like a personal icon. I think the other important ones, the archway, which is commonly with the dog, that has to do with belief structures or faith. The circular cross has to do with protection. I think those are my oldest and most used symbols..
SW: Are those symbols you feel you’ve made up or have you pulled those from other cultures?
BS: I think the circular cross has been used a lot and I use it in a similar way that most cultures use it, but the arch is definitely 100% my creation. I just started drawing this archway, way back in high school, I started drawing it. I didn’t really have any meaning attached to it when I started using it, it just grew with me.
SW: Okay. So you’re working on these sort of Egyptian inspired pieces right now, are there any other — I kind of just asked this question, but now a little bit broader. What cultures and other symbolism that are more universal and not personal are you inspired by?
BS: There aren’t very many universal symbols. I try and draw, make my own, they should be part of my own personal experience. They each have a meaning that I give them, but it doesn’t really derive from anywhere else. I think that’s more interesting. I think that’s more authentic of me, I’m not trying to stick someone else’s language into my own.
SW: Okay, what are your favorite life and artistic inspirations? Besides symbolism.
BS: I draw a lot from architecture, a lot of African architecture. There’s a lot of interesting cross over between African and other religious structures that I’m interested in. There’s these churches in Ethiopia that are Orthodox Christian churches, carved completely out of a single stone. They just find a giant stone, and they carve a church out of it. These sort of monolithic structures are very interesting to me. Other then that, a lot of my early symbols are from my childhood, which is a lot of video games and anime, not as intellectual as where I’m drawing from now.
SW: Who are some of your favorite artists? People you like.
BS: I like a lot of the artists that are right around me at the time. I try not to focus on celebrity artists very much. I’m really into my friend Sakos work right now, his work is really interesting. It has this really weird… he’s from Bulgaria, he’s a very devout draftsman. His work is a lot of line work, and sort of cryptic like mine in a way. I like Grace’s work a lot, her approach is very similar to mine, it has a lot of mixed images and the thought process behind it.
SW: Who are some of the celebrities?
BS: Celebrity-wise, I love Kiki Smith’s work a lot. Valerie Hammond, which is Kiki Smith’s best friend, some of her stuff I really like a lot too. That kind of cult, witch aesthetic, I’m really into.
SW: Kiki Smith is pretty rad. Have you seen any of her work in person?
BS: Yeah, actually one of my most influential memories from when I was a kid, we went to the MoMA and she had this piece there. I didn’t know it was hers at the time, I was very little. But it was these mirrored jars that had, like, blood and bile and spit in each of the jars. The jars were raised just above eye level, so I remember, like, peaking up to really see if it was blood or bile. I remember my mom putting me on her shoulders so I could look in. There wasn’t anything in it, but I remember thinking how gross it was.
SW: [Laughs] That sounds pretty cool.
SW: When you did printmaking what was your favorite kind of printmaking?
BS: To do, I really love litho, but I feel like my best work was done in woodcut, out of the way you can manipulate color and the subtractive process. It’s just like when you ink the block up so heavily to prepare the ink, the ink bleeds into the paper, instead of sitting on the paper. That’s really satisfying. Definitely though, to do, I really like litho. There’s a lot of process and it’s very physical, very demanding. You can’t just stop in the middle of what you’re doing to go get a drink of water, you have to print the whole time.
SW: Actually a few weeks ago we did an interview with an artist, Deb Chaney, she’s a Lithographer and was printing when I got there. She asked me if it was okay, it ended up being fine, but it was funny that like she literally couldn’t stop. She was like, ‘we either have to reschedule… or I just keep going.’ Alright!
BS: Was she printing a stone?
SW: Yeah, she was.
BS: Stones are the best, they’re these beautiful… I’m sure she talked a little bit about the history behind that right? I think that’s a really cool story still.
SW: What do you find cool about it?
BS: These stones that they dug up out of the Earth, all the ones that are in the world are already in the world. No more exist in the ground, once they’re gone, they’re gone. You draw with grease on them and when you’re done, you have a layer of the stone with the drawing and then keep reusing it. I also like the sort of ritualistic idea, that I like a lot in my work.
SW: Do you have any access to do any litho?
BS: I have some hours stored up at Robert Blackburn, but I never make it into the city.
SW: It’s such a small world. Ray used to work with them.
BS: Oh really? They’re pretty cool.
SW: You know the magazine Carrier Pigeon?
BS: Yeah I have a couple copies of them.
SW: Yeah, Ray co-founded it.
BS: Oh really? Wow, so he knows Justin and all them?
SW: Yeah, we’ve interviewed Justin. Take a look at our past interviews, you’ll be like ‘oh, I know all these people.’ [Laughs]
BS: Wow! That’s really cool. Yeah, Justin’s a pretty cool dude. I don’t know other than Justin who is in it, but yeah.
SW: It’s so funny, and you were wearing the Tandem press t-shirt that one day at the Roebling Fair that Patrick Smyzchek, who we also interviewed, screen printed. I’m finding that the printmaking community is pretty close and pretty small…
SW: Very small.
BS: Very small. We have that conference, that annual conference and everyone knows everyone, it just turns into a wild fucking party, but that’s fun.
SW: That’s cool. I haven’t done woodcut. Right now I’m in a printmaking class and we’re working on either woodcut or linocut and I’ve been doing linocuts, just doing a series of those. Woodcut looks very appealing, very hard.
BS: It’s just a little harder to cut the line, but I don’t know what it is about the wood, it’s just like a satisfying crack when the wood pops up and it’s gone forever.
SW: I’ve been using Soft Kut, not really linoleum. So it’s really satisfying, it’s like cutting butter. I’m seeing everyone in my class cutting real lino and just kind of scratching the surface. [I’m] scraping out these big pasta size pieces of rubber. It’s amazing.
So, you went to SCAD right?
SW: Do you have any advice for anyone post-school, in terms of keeping the momentum going as an artist.
BS: Just keep making, even if it’s not what you want to make. Just draw, you’ve got to keep making something. Try to find little ways to work it in, even if you’re really tired after work. You just got to keep making something, and show it to as many people as possible. You know, get the buzz around, share stuff online if you can. That’s how I’ve managed that, when people are stoked about it, you get more stoked about the next thing.
SW: Do you have an art making schedule, or do you just squeeze it in when you can?
BS: I try and draw every night and if I have something I’m specifically working on, I try to fit it in. Most of the time I cram everything into the weekends, my job is kind of an intense job.
SW: Unrelated to everything else we talked about, who is your favorite super villain?
BS: Oh, favorite super villain! It might be a little generic but I’m going to have to go with Lex Luthor, he’s sort of like the epitome of the ‘Evil Guy’. He goes up against Superman, the ultimate ‘Good Guy’. So he’s sort of the ultimate bad guy.
SW: Yeah, pretty stereotypical. [Laughs]
BS: Yeah, bald, evil. [Laughs]