Searching for identity in the Internet Age
Kelly Brand is a 23 year old painter and 2D artist based in Ashland and Talent, OR. She has been featured at Disjecta and the Blackfish Gallery in Portland, OR along with several spaces in Ashland, and she is a former member of the Bad Girls Club collective.
Her art intersects the traditional practice of painting with modern abstractions regarding the Internet and personal identities, though she places emphasis in form before conceptualism. Kelly’s BFA thesis exhibition, my friends are on the Internet, the Internet is my friend (2015), presented several large-scale portraits of her friends using their phones and laptops, an examination of contemporary functions and concentration on digital media through feminist sensibilities.
She will be attending the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) later this year, seeking an MFA in Visual Studies.
peach (2016), oil on panel, 36 x 36 in
You’ve described your work as utilizing an “Internet aesthetic”... What is that?
That was part of my formal thinking first. There was an aesthetic that I was drawn to and started investigating––like, where is that coming from, and why? It’s coming from the influence of social media and everything around me.
I think an Internet aesthetic––at least when I started thinking about work like this––is characterized lately by isolated subjects and planes of color. There were pastels around for a while all over the Internet and a femme aesthetic––at least in my Tumblr circles. But now I’m starting to think about bringing [in] aspects of the Internet and its own aesthetics, like window boxes, Instagram, filters, and framing––taking little bits of [what] we see and use all over the Internet––and bringing them to a 2D surface that I am producing with paint, not digital tools.
I’ve noticed the subjects of your portraiture never make eye contact with the viewer, quite the opposite of well-known paintings like Manet’s Olympia. Is that intentional?
Typically, the subject is not just a random person; they’re always a peer. I let them sit, behave, and pose however they want to. I want it to be an accurate and comfortable depiction, and that means a lot of people are looking straight at you.
I usually direct them [to] not be overly emotive. I don’t want to portray any specific feeling or emotion right off the bat; it comes through anyway. I want it to be [a] straightforward portrait. It’s just the person being relaxed, and I think subverting their gaze is a bit more comfortable.
I do like to examine that, thinking about the gaze of the viewer onto the person, how they are passive and submissive in that situation. I actually have a painting of my boyfriend staring me directly in the eyes––that’s a huge difference, and you do feel something from it.
q (2015), oil on panel, 96 x 60 in
Could you elaborate on your idea of identity being produced by the Internet?
I’m starting to get away from the aesthetics of the Internet and [thinking] more about how I interact with the Internet. Where is the line between our IRL body––physical forms––and our identities on the Internet? There really is not a line. Most people nowadays have to exist in some way on the Internet.
Social media informs who we are, how we act, how people see us, and how we want people to see us. How we form relationships with people has drastically changed. I’m not even advocating for it all of the time; I see the cons as well… More now, actually.
I was very pro-social-media before, and now I’m starting to critique it. I still think it’s a necessary tool, but I’m starting to feel some of those concerns. Maybe we won’t be able to function without it. That’s why my past work [featured] people on their devices, because we’re inseparable. It’s not necessarily a bad thing that we’re so connected to everything, and it’s nice to be able to curate your own image sometimes, but we have so many tools in our toolbox [that] we can be whoever we want.
Does painting have a place online?
I think my work looks better online. [It’s] an interesting thought; people making work in the physical world for the Internet. It’s meant to be seen on the Internet and made to look better on the Internet. I think there’s a reason why pastel colors are in vogue on the Internet. They translate better to the digital screen.
Can painting remain a relevant art form in that way?
I think so. Painting is never going to die. It dies, and then it always comes back. I’m not too worried about it, but it’ll help it stay alive. [The Internet] is the main way to view work for a lot of people. It is for me, at least. We don’t have galleries really here [in Ashland]––you have to travel really far to see any work.
"Painting is never going to die.
It dies, and then it always comes back."
I know you were featured in Disjecta’s SALON exhibition up in Portland last year. How was that?
[It] was great! I’ve never seen a salon-style show, so [it] was exciting to see so much work in a very small space. It’s nice to see people’s work next to each other; it’s nice to see relevant youth-driven work in a city. I was surprised I didn’t see a lot of human subject matter––there weren’t a lot of portraits at that show.
Have you had difficulties showing your work aside from that?
I don’t want to say difficulties, because I am a slacker artist and have not really applied to shows. I often say how lucky I am to have all these awesome people around me who believe in me, see something in me, and give me opportunities. That’s the main reason I’ve been in shows lately. People contact me and ask me if I’m interested. This is not the easiest place to show your work, but I’ve lucked out. I’m always saying I need to put the effort in to apply more.
rebecca (2015), oil on panel, 60 x 60 in
What have you been focusing on in your post-grad life? What’s it been like?
Post-grad life has mostly been life experience, which sounds like such bullshit. Right out of graduation, I had a lot of personal, relationship, life experience that I don’t regret. In school, you’re so busy, and I busted my butt. [I allowed] myself to take a break afterwards.
[It’s] been a whirlwind of working a lot, figuring out what it’s like to not be in an educational institution, and trying to figure out what it means to be post-grad, an adult, [and] a creative person outside of school. [It’s] scary and exciting at the same time.
I’m starting to feel the weight of adulthood and financial things, but I’m feeling way more excited and optimistic about getting back into the art world… Finding a place where I can communicate and influence people––maybe younger people––in the art world and maybe foster a smaller space rather than worrying about being on some grand scale, a.k.a. east coast. My concerns are a little less grand, and I’m trying to focus on what’s next, what’s this moment, and how I can be engaged. The first step is to leave here.
What are your hopes for life in Portland and at PNCA?
Being out of school, becoming more isolated, I have realized how much I miss my art crew, the Bad Girls Club. I want to start another collective, hopefully in a similar organic way, in which I find some bad bitches that I agree with along the gender spectrum, make art, make spaces, and have shows.
I’m excited about the youth-driven aspects of Portland. While it’s not quite up-and-coming anymore, there’s still that energy vibrating around. I’m excited to channel all of that energy and obviously go back to school and start learning again. I haven’t been looking enough, reading enough, engaging with people enough… I’m excited to exercise that muscle.
Taking a break was healthy, but it made me realize how much I enjoy being in that world and being around art people. I wanna think about how I can make work that says something important, maybe about what’s happening now in our world––maybe not directly, but [examining] what’s going on.
Art is important right now. Some good that can come out of these next four years is going to be art and how people are using it to communicate ideas. I want to be a part of that.
Photo by Zach Whitworth (@zachwhitworth)
via Zach Whitworth (@zachwhitworth), a 20 year old artist based in Ashland, OR.