Artist Interview: BRIAN SPARROW


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?

BS: 2011

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.


tell me a story


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…

BS: Yep!

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?

BS: Yeah

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]


Artist Interview: DEB CHANEY


Intro & Interview by Shanon Weltman

We met this week’s artist, Master Printer Deb Chaney, during Bushwick Open Studios. In a sea of dozens of artists at Brooklyn Fire Proof, Deb’s studio shined a little brighter than the rest. She’s our first featured printmaker that focuses on printing other artist’s editions more often than her own, although her personal work is divine. Lithographers are a rare breed, making Deb a sought after commodity by big named collections like Pace Editions, among others. Keep reading to get into the mind of this professional printmaker and educator.


SHANON WELTMAN: I see that you do a bunch of different printing techniques, but what draws you the most to lithography?

DEB CHANEY: When I was in school studying I really gravitated towards lithography because I was really fascinated with the idea of drawing on rocks, drawing on stones. Traditionally, lithography is done on limestone and I just thought that that was the coolest thing ever, [Laughs] and very magical. There’s this mystique which just seems so strange and impossible, I’d never seen anything like it. So I just really wanted to take that class. When I did, it had the perfect union of drawing and working with my hands and being physical. Physically operating the presses and standing above the different materials. It’s very process oriented and I was pretty brainy in high school. I liked problem solving and things like that. Even though I was kind of good at math and science, I kind of wasn’t into it, you know? I knew that I wanted to study art. Just drawing, plain old drawing with plain old painting wasn’t interesting to me. I love drawing but the beauty of printing and printmaking is that you have this other element of this process. I just really love the ink. I gravitated towards litho rather than etching because I like the rolling of the ink, the physical process of it in general. The mixing of the colors of the ink, really stones really sold it to me. The magic of printing with them. It’s just the perfect union of drawing and operating these amazing presses.




SW: What year did you graduate from Tamarind? I have a friend, Patrick Smyczek, that went there.

DC: I was there 2003-05, what year was he?

SW: I think, right after that. Like 2007-8 maybe.

DC: Patrick, I don’t know… there were a lot of people at Tamarind, you kind of end up knowing them eventually or come across them or I don’t know. It’s a small world, everybody kind of knows everybody. [Laughs]

SW: Mmhmm.

DC: My studio mate, Ana, she went to Tamarind but she was there in 2010. 2010-11, that year. I loved Tamarind, that was just a really amazing experience in general. Just to be able to go to Litho Mecca you know? [Laughs] To go to this mystical place that you’d always heard about. When I was in school my professors were really great about opening our eyes to the possibility of collaborative printing and being a master printer. It was talked about, I was shown prints from Tamarind. That’s a unique thing about printmaking too, you have this other world of potential career being a master printer, a collaborative printer. There’s so much process in it, it’s a real art in and of itself to learn the ins and outs of all these different processes. When I was in school, what really got me interested was the great visiting artist program there. They would have at least one or two artists per semester come and the students would be able to, depending on the artist, be able to help out a lot in the project itself, being really hands on and involved in the creative process of the artist. Every artist is different, their approach to image making and mark making, composition, just their decision making, completely different from one to the next. Some work with absolute plans and colors and how many runs, this or that stone or plate, other people are just like ‘Ah, whatever’ and it’s very intuitive. It was really interesting for me to see that as a young artist. I was really just young and trying to figure out my own manner of image making. It was really eye-opening to be a part of these, get inside these other artists’ brains and see through their eyes and thought process. Mix colors that you never ever choose to mix yourself in your own artwork. The color combinations that you’d never ever imagine working, work beautifully. You just learn a lot out there.




DC: Now, as a master printer, a collaborative printer, I’m making all different kinds of work too. Some people work very realistically, some work really abstractly, it’s really fun to be able to work in these different manners, these different styles.

SW: How many different artists do you work with monthly on average?

DC: It really varies. I have several clients that I work with. Sometimes it’s one, sometimes it’s three, depends on the project a lot. It depends on the flow of the work that’s coming in. Most of what I do is contract printing, individual artists or publishers will contact me to produce editions of the artist’s work that they’re publishing. So, I’m either given artwork by the mail, some people will ship drawings or layers of drawings on mylar to me. Some people are local so they’re able to come into the studio and work directly with me. I’m at the very beginning stages of doing my own publishing, so most of my work I do is contract publishing, people pay for the production costs and they get the editions in the end and it’s their responsibility for selling them. My goal is to to have the freedom to choose the artists who I want to work with, whose work I want to promote, and then I have the responsibility of selling the work. Or working with an art dealer, art consultant type person in order to place the work with different collectors or buyers, something like that. Getting to the nitty-gritty of the marketing side of the print world. It’s interesting starting that, I think it’s really exciting too. I’m excited about that freedom of being able to choose and promote people whose work I really really admire.




SW: Who are some people you’d like to print for?

DC: I have a wish list but a lot of them in the beginning are friends, friends who are artists. That’s the beauty of working in Brooklyn or just NY in general. There’s a plethora of amazing talented artist that are in your backyard basically, and you know, I’m fortunate enough to feel like I have a lot of different friends here who are super talented and I’d love to work with. Most of them are painters, some sculptors, but a lot of people who just draw. Drawing skills that are really astounding, I love their work. As a printer, the beauty of being a printer is you get a copy of every print that you get to work on too. It’s also kind of choosing whose work you’d want to have a piece of too. Like if you can’t afford somebody’s sculpture or painting, you can invite somebody to make a print with you.




SW: Do you get a chance to work on your own artwork?

DC: I do actually, it’s sporadic for sure because my own artwork isn’t my source of income. My main source of income is from my business of printing, and I teach too during the semester. I teach litho at Pratt Institute and then every other semester I teach an intro to printmaking class at Parsons.

SW: I was going to ask about that, I know a bunch of printmakers, but you’re the only one [I know] that’s a teacher as well. Besides a steady source of income, what draws you to teaching?




DC: I kind of feel like it’s my duty [Laughs] for the sake of lithography. I’ve taught lots of classes and print workshops at other places. I’ve come across people who have taken printmaking classes before and they all have nightmare stories about litho and it breaks my heart when somebody’s like ‘I hate litho, it never works out.’ ‘It’s so hard’, and I just feel like it’s because – I don’t want to sound snobby – but I don’t think that people know how to teach it very well. It’s one of the most difficult printmaking processes. It’s chemistry, there’s tons of problem solving. If you don’t know how to troubleshoot or problem solve, lots of things can go wrong. A lot of times you get professors who get hired, and this is an issue within the academic system too, printmakers, most of the time you pick a medium and stick with it and may dabble in the others. Someone who is really great with silkscreen could be hired to teach printmaking. To be the printmaking professor means you have to teach all these different mediums, including lithography. Somebody whose strong suit is in silkscreen more than likely their strong suit is not also going to be lithography. That’s when problems happen. The expectations of the University is to hire one person to do everything. It’s nearly impossible for one person to, well not nearly impossible, but it’s hard. It’s a rare thing for a printmaking professor to really have a whole set of tools under their belt to be able to teach every single printmaking discipline.

SW: I asked before who you’d like to work with, of the people and galleries that you have worked with, were there any really exciting artists for you that it’s been kind of a dream for you to print their stuff?

DC: One major major project that I have been working on a little bit over a year now has been a project with Pace Editions, just being a printer for Pace is huge. It’s Pace, they’re one of the biggest print publishers in the world and it was just a real honor that they would entrust me to take on printing for an artist like Will Cotton. Will, they had an exhibition last fall, last October at Pace Prints in Chelsea. Will loves litho. He just loves it, and that’s one medium that for whatever reason, Pace doesn’t do. They don’t have litho facilities. The printer that introduced Will to lithography was Ruth Lingen who operates Pace Paper. She knows litho and she’s been through the Tamarind summer workshop summer program. I’ve helped her in the past on some of the Will projects that they’ve done. Once he got more accustomed to and used to litho and all of the materials and what you can do, she kind of passed on more responsibility to me as far as the technical side of it. Processing the plate and the print editions. She was the collaborative printer on the project working directly with Will, but she was there the whole time with me editioning. It was printed in my shop and I was the one doing all of the major processing and inking. It was a big collaboration between Will and Ruth, Pace and myself, it was really exciting. I think that was one of the most exciting projects that I’ve been involved with recently. Especially since I’ve gone out on my own. I started doing freelance four, maybe five years ago now. I was working at the Robert Blackburn Printmaking workshop, that’s how I know Russ [Spitkovsky], Justin [Sanz], those amazing printmakers.

SW: We actually interviewed Justin recently.

DC: He’s such a sweetheart, he’s so good. He’s such a good printer, he has a really great personality and temperament, a real sweet guy. After I stopped working there, I went on to do my own thing and freelance contract work. That’s kind of when I started using all the connections that I’ve made in the city and people that I’ve met. Just different artists, all through word of mouth I’ve slowly accumulated a pretty good base of work. Teaching and printing, four and a half years in now, I’m busy. Which is just fantastic. Since I’ve gone freelance that is pretty much the biggest project to date that I’ve been involved with. Almost every bit of that work that was up for the show [BOS] was printed in my shop.

SW: That’s exciting!

DC: Super super exciting. Will is a nice guy, it was exciting that he loved litho just like me. [Laughs] For a painter who shows with the Mary Boone gallery, somebody of that stature, with that level of success to really love printing, printmaking and litho specifically, that was really exciting.




SW: You mentioned you are able to work on your own work, but are you getting enough of your own creative expression out? Do you find that in printing other peoples things? The order?

DC: I do, it is creative, it’s not necessarily my signature, imagery or choices, but it is creative. I am totally involved, when if the color is too dark, so I’ve noticed it, brought it up and we’re collaborating. Working on this together, to make a successful piece together. That piece won’t happen with the two of us being involved, normally. Sometimes it’s just ‘here, print this, I want these colors, great.’ But most of the time, what I enjoy most is these kind of collaborations. You’re having communication, dialogue decision making. In the end, sure, his name is on it. I have a little shop, that’s my signature. But it’s not about me, that’s something that becoming a master printer, that’s what it is, that’s a part of it. For me, that totally satisfies me, it’s still very creative and I get a lot out of it and I’m working. It’s great.

SW: There’s definitely an art to being as organized and structured too. Like so clean and exacting, it’s its own art. I didn’t mean to ask it in anyway…

DC: No problem, I’ve answered that question many times. It’s not for everybody. People going into the Tamarind program, they think sometimes that’s what they like, that’s what they’re into, they’re okay with. Sometimes people just change their minds and they leave, halfway through or after the first year. I can’t not make my own work for myself. It’s just not for everybody. I look at it from the creative standpoint, I’m making more work than most people. Period. [Laughs] And I’m making a lot of work, and it is creative. It is not just reproduction.

SW: Yeah, it’s a fine art, you have to make art direction type choices. Last question: What mythical animal is your spirit animal?

DC: Oh gosh, well… my email is Brayer Rabbit, that’s like my dorky printmaker from the south name. Like Briar Rabbit, Briar Patch.

SW: [Laughs]

DC: I started drawing lots of rabbits in college, I was like ‘where is all this rabbit stuff coming from?’ Just thinking back, I had rabbits all over my house. My mom was obsessed with rabbits. I didn’t really realize until late. You know, you just start drawing stuff when you’re little and you’re just like, I don’t know where this is coming from. That’s when I just realized there was rabbits all over the place. And rabbit stories, you know? Like Peter Rabbit, that was my bedroom theme when I was a little girl. For whatever reason, I think a rabbit would be my spirit animal. [Laughs]