When I reached the top step on my walk up to Brendan Getz‘s studio, I knew I was in the right place. Plants and paintings filled an atrium soaked in natural light and apartments flanked the edges. The inside of number 9 was even better, with tall white walls lined in progressing works, representing an artist and portfolio that grew here together.
Brendan grew up all over the place. He told me his family moved about once every year, so it made sense that his adult life had been nomadic too. He began studying philosophy at Colorado State, since being an artist wasn’t exactly considered a viable career path even though he’d been drawing, painting, and sculpting ever since he could remember. After three years of reading philosophy books he’d already read, Brendan stopped wasting time and moved south to Nashville to help his dad build a house. He found Belmont University nearby, and they were impressed enough by his work to offer a scholarship in painting.
That BFA in Painting ended with a successful group show called Future/Now, and Brendan took off for Barcelona where he absorbed the centuries of art that sent stylistic shock waves through time. He painted and travelled, spending time in Paris and London until he fell in love with a girl in Italy named Courtney, and came back with her to the Bay Area.
Brendan’s first series of work grew out of all the art historical influences he found in Europe. Titled Evolution of Meaning, these paintings recontextualize ancient statues and famous paintings, placing Velazquez’s “Venus” in a sea of dark green mist and “Laocoön” in the ‘cave’ of the Vatican.
He’s been in the Bay Area for five years now, and Brendan says the most influential artists in his work are the likes of Richard Diebenkorn, John Cage, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Marcel duChamp. But some of his most direct inspiration comes from the Chinese artist Mu Xin, who was locked up by Mao for his work but continued creating delicate abstract landscapes in prison.
The consistent theme throughout all of Brendan’s work is a fluidity of meaning — he’s constantly finding new ways to mask his intentions with each piece. Evolution of Meaning began that journey explicitly in subject and scene but his second series, Interaction I, took a new direction and distorted simpler subjects with physical materials instead. By using painted mylar over charcoal, Brendan created a lens that separated the viewer and the subject within the work.
“I think things are interesting when they’re disorienting.”
Brendan expanded on this physicality of distortion in his latest work, Interaction II. This time he’s been experimenting with mineral spirits, adding what he believes is a necessary dose of chance to the canvas. The spirits dissolve the paint and Brendan watches shapes and figures evolve, using brushes and rags to show us what he sees, saying “I use everything I can to make a mark.”
In “Bridge & House” above, he saw the line of a cheekbone dissolved by the spirits and turned it into the right side of a face with dark, sunken eyes.
He begins each piece with just a palette of colors, letting the mineral spirits completely determine what emerges within the painting. “Typically the first strokes I make are my favorite,” he said, and it usually only takes five minutes of mark-making to figure out if the work is headed in the right direction. If it’s not, he wipes the canvas clean and starts again.
But even more interesting than what and how he paints is why. To him, the artwork is the filament that connects the energies of artist and viewer, and it’s this bond that’s the true art and not the work itself. Because every individual brings a whole distinct past to each new artwork they see, Brendan sees his paintings as a mirror, reflecting a completely different reality in the eyes of each viewer.
“The painting is more of an offering… art is what happens between it and viewer.”
Near the end of my visit, Brendan told me the story of how “Drakes Bay” — the work we selected for Art on BART came to be. He was painting outside, watching Courtney read on the sand when the tide came in without him realizing. The water swept up the easel and canvas, connecting painted ocean with actual ocean, and Brendan had to run out after them.