Art/Culture

In Convo with: Brendan Lynch

A talk with the New-York based artist about his current exhibition at NOVA Contemporary, first time in Asia, and favorite part of Bangkok.

February 08, 2017
Brendan Lynch, a former member of the Still House Group, is a contemporary artist and painter working in New York City. His love of animated movies, recent work relating to landscapes, and interest in open interpretations of subjects culminate in “Leaf Walk”, his first exhibition in Asia, showing at Nova Contemporary until March 23rd. The day of his opening, I had a chance to talk to Brendan about his process, interests, and love of JJ market.

Can you talk about the title of the show?
The title is “Leaf Walk” and it’s a reference to this movie that was made in 1989 called Land Before Time. What originally attracted me to that movie, besides memories of watching it as a kid, was all the background painting in the movie, so it’s all this really beautiful hand-done work; it almost looks like these watercolors, with these super bright colors. The story is about this young dinosaur who is trying to walk with his parents to find a new source of food because all the food has disappeared. It’s a kind of an epic journey, and they find this leaf, and his mom’s like, “This is what we’re searching for,” and then his parents die and it just becomes this object he carries with him –almost like his reason for carrying on. So when things seem hopeless he has this memory and this symbol to keep going, just one step in front of the other, keep going, keep going. That was really powerful to me because I feel like it’s important, when there’s a sense of despair or hopelessness, to hold onto these things, to have something to believe in, something that makes us want to carry on, that makes us want to live.

Can you tell me more about your process?
Sometimes a painting can come about really quickly and it just works and happens in that moment; other times things are a little bit slower for me. The process is just having this trust that if I stay in it and I put the work in and put the time in that it’ll unfold. If I start thinking too far ahead like, “Oh I need to make something great; I need to have a great show,” if I start looking at the bigger picture, I get nervous instead of being super present with the work and allowing it to unfold the way it’s supposed to unfold. When I start I have a loose idea or vibe or materials I want to work with, but once it starts moving I want to be open to where the piece is going. It becomes this balance between my original intention and what the piece is actually doing and navigating it –it’s a sort of dance, especially with the collage works. I had these two images I wanted to work with of this Thai temple in Bangkok and of upstate New York, that’s where it kind of began. Then I had other materials around in my studio and it was sort of step by step: laying it down and then seeing what’s next and then making a move and then being like, “Okay where is it going?” Each move influences the next one until it reaches a point of completion or wholeness.
How was collaborating with your brother Ryan?
He’s like my best friend. I’ve collaborated with [all three of] my brothers individually on different things. I gave him very loose parameters for the show; I told him about The Land Before Time and the idea of a journey or a step, and the only instruction I gave him was that I’d like it to have some kind of walking sounds, and that was it. I think we’re just in tune with each other. I think, because we talk to each other a lot and we share what we are working on with each other, the conversations in the collaborations happened a little easier because we’re so in step with each other that it builds off of that; it’s not like “This is what I'm doing, now you do it.” We’re moving in sync with each other.

How has it been since leaving the Still House Group?
It’s been really exciting. The Still House Group was an amazing point in time and I learned a lot from working with those guys. I never worked alone before. I grew up in a house with three brothers and then went to university and then right after college was working with Still House so I was always surrounded by a group before this past year [when] I got my own studio, the first place that’s 100% mine and completely controlled by me. So many ideas, at least for me, start out really small and then turn into this whole other thing, and ideas need space and time and care to develop into something. People aren’t intentionally trying to stop ideas, but it can be something as simple as being in the studio trying to play around with something new and someone coming in and saying, “I like that,” or “I don’t like that.” Maybe because I’m sensitive to criticism, sometimes it’s steered me in different directions, but now in the studio I can be really free and allow things to develop in a way I haven’t felt before. Then, when you’re ready, you can bring people into it.

Do you think that process has made this show different?
Yes, this is the first sort of gallery show I’ve had since not being a part of a collective so it feels very personal and extremely new because, being a part of the collective, I had that shield: I was an artist that was part of this thing, and that was the first thing [you saw] before you saw me as an individual artist. It was, “Oh he’s an artist with the Still House Group.” If things worked or things didn’t I could always hide behind it a bit. Now this is all me; this is a hundred percent me and it feels really good.
Since this was your first show in Asia, did you develop or think about it differently?
As much as I could because it’s hard to assume what someone’s going to be like in a place you’ve never been. Elements of the show reference this area, like there’s a picture of a temple, and the chip bag sculptures are from the supermarkets here, the plastic plants are from JJ market, and there’s a table sculpture where the table was sourced from a street vendor who was selling mango sticky rice. I didn’t want to start assuming things about this place or what people would like but I thought there were aspects of the show that would translate here, [like] how landscapes function in different contexts, how I can have one idea but when I put it out there it can be interpreted differently. It’s allowing the work to have the breathing room to allow different people to approach it. Some people saw the gold leaf, something they’re familiar with seeing in Buddhist temples, that wasn’t my intention but I like that it played out like that; it can be interpreted in different ways. It’s not like, “This is how you’re supposed to feel; this is what it means,” more like, “This is how I came about the work and now it’s doing something else.” I try to be open to new ideas and I like artwork to be approachable.

Did you look at other artist’s work at JJ?
My first thought when I was walking around there was, “I want to do a show here. I want to get a booth and do a show here for a month.” That place had so much energy; you could get anything from a illegal fish to plastic flowers and everything in between. It’s really wild and I feel like if I lived out here that would be the only place I would work, that would be where everything came from.

If you were a food, what would you be and why?
Tacos, because I eat so many of them I feel like I’ll turn into one at one point. I imagine the fantasy version of me as a coconut living in a tropical place.

Final answer?
Maybe just go with my first answer: tacos.