Interview by Sara Button
Brett Rees is a Master Print Maker. Seriously, though. He recently completed this graduate degree at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Rees and his wife have recently replanted their roots back in the rich, Denton soil after living in the Midwest for the last four years. We talk to him about his artistic process, creating for musicians, and what brought him back to Denton (spoiler: it was mostly the spicy foods) in the interview below.
WDDI: What inspired you to become a professional artist?
BR: Unrelenting compulsion to draw + need to make money = professional artist. I'm not sure how to explain it other than that. I think if you are truly dedicated to something, you find a way to make it work for you. Also, I am lucky to have the support of some great, inspirational people.
What brought you back to Denton?
I wasn't born and raised in Denton, but it feels more like home than anywhere else. I went to undergrad at UNT and fell in love with the town. It took me getting out of here for a while for me to realize that. After graduating undergrad, I worked in Dallas for a while doing digital photography and printmaking. I really liked my job but hated the commute and didn't see myself doing it forever.
One of my goals in life is to become a teacher...specifically to teach visual arts at the university level. I want to inspire kids, or I guess young adults, the same way I was inspired by my professors. So, we (my now wife and I) packed up and headed north to Wisconsin where I attended the visual arts graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Four years and two degrees later, we're back in Denton.
Turns out, finding a job teaching visual arts at a university is pretty difficult for people right out of graduate school...who'd a thought? Add the relentless winters and missing family and friends to the equation and you got some bummed out dudes ready to get back to Texas. With our families closer, we are settling back into a familiar place that has a great arts community. My portfolio has gotten much larger and stronger and I am working a commercial art day job and bangin' out as much personal work as I can on the nights and weekends. I will keep grindin' and honing my portfolio for the next round of teaching applications. It would be a dream come true to land a job at UNT.
You've done some artwork for national touring bands in the past, what were some of your favorite pieces?
Yeah, I'm trying to get into that more. It's convenient that all of my studying in school was centered around printmaking in visual arts. It kind of lends itself directly to doing poster designs and stuff for bands.
I have a good Denton story about the first time I got to do work with a nationally touring band, Murder by Death...which also happens to be my hands-down favorite band for the past ten years or so. MBD was playing a show at Rubber Gloves and I had a show going on at La Meme Gallery (which used to be connected to Rubber Gloves). The gallery was closed by the time those dudes got into town. However, they needed somewhere to store their equipment before the show so they ended up stashing their gear in the gallery. Anyway, the show was great (as usual). I had a few drinks enjoying the show (as usual) and happened to let slip to Bryan Denny, who booked the show, that those guys were my favorite band... so much so that I had a piece in the show next door that was directly inspired by one of their songs.
Now this is a little bit of a hazy recollection, like I said; I was drinking, but next thing I know Bryan tells me that MBD wants to talk with me. We met in the gallery and talked for a bit about their music and my art. It was pretty awesome. By the end of the conversation, Adam Turla tells me to keep in touch and to send him over some mockups for posters etc. About a month later, I had a a few pieces to send them. One ended up being the album art to a 7" Split that they did with Sam Lowry. Another became a t-shirt design for them. I was pretty pumped when they sent me a bunch of the records with my artwork on the front of them!
Since then, I've had a few other opportunities to work with MBD and it's been a great experience. Those guys (and girl) are really awesome and very supportive of the arts and young artists. Hopefully you'll see some more work that I've done for them soon.
Also, they still have some posters for sale with my design for their winter 2013 tour up on their website. You can grab one here.
I've also had the chance to do some poster designs for Why? that I'm pretty proud of. For those two, I hand printed the edition for each poster. Took a lot of time, but they turned out great.
What inspires you to create on a daily basis?
That's tough question. I'd say everything. I use art as a filter for my understanding of the world. Nothing is off limits and everything plays a part. I'd say the other very important part of the equation is the discipline to work at it every day...and I mean every day. The repetition of working daily helps me to stay in the zone and come up with new material. When I get home from work, I go directly to work on my own stuff.
Don't get me wrong, I still find time to enjoy myself and hang out with my family and friends, but if I miss a couple of days or so from working on art, I get a really antsy feeling; like I'm a failure or that I'm not trying hard enough.
It's just a lot of self discipline, sacrifice, and dedication. Like anything else worth doing.
Heavy metal or heavy on the hot sauce?
Both. Maybe even at the same time. I will say, the food is one of things that I've missed most about Texas. Spice is nice.
What are your artistic plans now that you are back in Denton?
I'm just going to keep making work, applying for teaching positions, and trying to get into some galleries around here. The Dallas gallery scene has gotten better since I've been gone so I'll be trying to sneak in there somewhere. That's the life of just about any artist my age.
I do want to do more album and poster designs. There's much more opportunity with local bands around here. Also, I have some looming goals to do some sort of a book of illustrations and some animations. I've done small projects for both in the past but I want to do longer, more in-depth stuff. I really want to do an animated music video type-thing. That would be a great notch on my belt. It just takes so much time so it's hard to do on spec; if it doesn't work out, I will have waisted a lot of time that I could have been doing something else.
What is your preferred medium?
That's a good question. I'm all over the place.
My area of study in school has always been printmaking, but that covers so much right there. As far as printmaking goes, I'm terrible at stone lithography, okay at etching, pretty good at relief, and can slam serigraphy. What I consider my area of focus within printmaking is how digital technologies have changed the process. While at UW, I got to play around with 3D printers, cnc machines, and had access to some great print facilities that integrated digital printing technologies into traditional print studios.
One of the hardest things about being an artist with a focus in printmaking is that once you are out of school, you don't have access to the majority of tools that you need to make prints! That's why I was, and still am, not very good at stone lithography: it's not very practical and pretty much impossible to do outside of a school or a professional print studio.
Anyway, computers are what I'm into for the most part. Even for some painting and drawing stuff, I will digitize sketches and play with compositions in Photoshop before I commit to doing the painting. It helps too that the professional jobs that I have had are all centered around computers and art in some form or fashion. Like I said earlier, I was a digital printing and photography technician for a while in Dallas. That got my Photoshop chops up to a million. I did a bunch of web design stuff while I was in grad school and now do graphic and web design as well as video editing and still photography...and now am in digital publishing.
At the core though, I still draw and paint nearly everyday. I usually have at least one painting going at all times and draw constantly. As far as painting goes, watercolor is my main jam. For some reason, I understand it really well. How the paint will lay down and how I can manipulate it to do what I want. Painting with acrylics is ok for me. More of a means to an end. I don't enjoy the process as much. I've dabbled in oils too but it's just not where I think to go normally.
Where is the best place to go to view or purchase your artwork?
My website works the best for both. I have a pretty good selection of my work from the past 5 years on there. Just updated it too. I have a Society6 account for some weird stuff; I haven't had the chance to do much there but I'm going to try and do more design oriented stuff for that account.
The easiest way to purchase work would be directly through me via email, and we can talk about what you want. I do a lot of commissioned work so if you don't see something you like, I can always put my spin on an idea of yours.
Get at me!