Abstract artist Brian Billings lives and paints in Gilbert, Arizona. His pieces combine painting and sculptural elements to create a unique, colorful experience for viewers.
In our interview, Billings explained the inspiration behind his fascinating work.
Jason: Describe your style and subject matter.
Brian Billings: My style expresses bold lines and vibrant colors. I began on canvas and shifted to sculptural paintings, adding depth to my artwork. Continuing my bold lines and unique style, I expanded on the narrative by highlighting a common theme of daily struggles. Two sides to every story, is the concept behind my latest artwork. The work expresses moving forward and getting past what is in front of you to combine two conflicting stories in one painting. These works are a combination of mixed media that involve wood, canvas, acrylic, and other materials. Although some of my pieces showcase a solid surface, others reflect a process that begins with the formation of a floating wood panel or box. I try to replicate the textures and patterns observed in distressed concrete and wood on the front surface of the painting. This process signifies a wall, dealing with struggles in life, nature, or psyche. Beyond the surface a hole is created through the wood panel to replicate the struggle of overcoming barriers. Embedded within the hole is a story told through bold lines and vibrant colors on canvas.
J: How did you develop your style?
BB: I am a big fan of the modern abstract artists, but felt I was too influenced to create my own style. I lived in a small apartment that had too many distractions: street noise, tv, computer, phone, etc. So I decided I needed to block everything out. I kept all electronics off, closed the curtains, even kept the lights off and I thought deeply about what I wanted to paint. I didn’t even pick up a brush at this time. After going through many ideas I didn’t want to paint, I started seeing patterns in everything around me. I started copying these patterns with thick black lines and filled them with color. Over time I kept experimenting with different media until I finally reached what I’m currently doing.
J: What is your medium?
BB: Acrylic on wood panel and canvas.
J: What drew you to your subject matter?
BB: I have a large range of subjects, but everything relates to my theme of struggles.
J: What do you feel is unique about your work?
BB: I like to think I’m taking painting to a different level. Giving it a sculptural quality and combining two different styles in one painting.
J: How did you get your start in art?
BB: As with most artists I loved to draw as a kid. It was in high school when I realized I wanted to do something art related.
J: Are there other artists in your family?
BB: My uncle is an oil painter, but he didn’t really focus on art until late into retirement. My dad is a drummer, that sort of counts. My parents went through some hard times while my dad was playing, so they know how hard it is to make it and what it’s like to be a starving artist.
J: Did your family encourage your art?
BB: Not really. Since my dad was a drummer, my parents tried to get me into music at a young age. Of course, I rebelled and was interested in sports and drawing instead. As a kid I didn’t even realize that people could make a living making fine art. When my interest grew in art while in high school, graphic design was introduced to me and was told that’s the art business you want to be in to make money.
J: How much art-related education do you have?
BB: I studied graphic design in high school and college. I also took some fine art classes in college as well and it was a color theory class that really got me introduced to painting.
J: When did you sell your first artwork?
BB: Sold my first painting at a local First Friday art walk. Soon after I started to sell on Ebay.
J: Are you a full-time artist?
BB: Being an artist isn’t a job, it’s who you are. So yes, I am a full time artist that happens to have a full time job to pay the bills. I may be at work, but my mind is always thinking creatively.
J: What other jobs have you held?
BB: Many sales jobs. Even was once a car salesman and was very good at it, yet somehow I struggle to talk about and sell my own work.
J: How do you promote and expose your work to potential buyers?
BB: I just recently had work published in the Inspiration International Art Book. I also use Instagram and Facebook to show my work and work in progress.
J: What do you feel has been your greatest challenge in selling your work?
BB: Getting my work in front of the right market. The majority of galleries around me are very Southwestern, even those that are more modern still tend to have a southwest theme to them. It’s hard to find a contemporary gallery in my area that shows new artists.
J: What do you feel you’ve been most successful at in your art, and in your art business?
BB: Not giving up, sticking to my style and staying creative!
J: How much time do you spend in the studio on an average week?
BB: I put in about 10 hours actually painting, but my mind is in the studio all the time.
J: Do you have a daily routine?
BB: I take the bus to work, this gives me about an hour each way to work on sketches, research or anything else I can do without being in the studio. I also will work on something during lunch and breaks and probably some times I shouldn’t be. Then I come home, have dinner, play with kids and finally get them to bed! I try to get in the studio every day, even if it’s just for 20-30 minutes to straighten things out or get the next piece ready. Every other night I will spend time painting, the other night’s I spend with my wife. Because I’m able to do sketches and think about my next piece to and from work, I’m all set to get right to painting and work quickly.
J: How much work do you produce per month on average?
BB: Currently my work is at least 24×30 and get 2-3 done on average. Because my work has two surfaces it’s almost like having to paint 2 paintings to create one.
J: Who is your favorite artist from art history?
BB: Miro, Kandinsky, and Dali are all very inspirational to me. Not only for their style of work but more for the philosophy behind their work.
J: What are your interests outside of your art?
BB: Sports, music, and doing things with family.
I also try to find ways to be creative outside of my paintings. I believe getting away from my style just for a bit helps me be more creative and more productive when I am focused on my paintings. Recently I have enjoyed making t-shirts from the designs on manhole covers using a block printing technique, something I call street prints. It gets me outside and helps clear my mind, yet keep the creative juices flowing.
J: Thanks, Brian! To see more of Brian’s art, visit www.billingsabstractart.com.
In his Amazon.com best-selling book, Xanadu Gallery owner Jason Horejs shares insights gained over a life-time in the art business.