John Brosio was born in 1967. He studied at the University of California, Davis, and Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. His website is www.johnbrosio.com.
First off, you work as a fine art painter rather than as an illustrator. However, your works are often surrealist or at least surrealist-adjacent, so they tend to have a strong narrative component as well as fantastical elements. So your work shares some things with science fiction/fantasy illustration, even if its purposes, methods, and ultimate effects are very different. Tell us what you see as the difference between what you are doing and straight-up illustration.
I see what you’re saying, but I don’t feel that much of a distinction. I don’t feel that difference anymore. In school, we were encouraged to take note of what was considered illustration vs. “fine art,” but I think, in the end, an artist just needs to be taking something seriously. And the conviction comes through sometimes as a result. Am I afraid that a final piece will be stupid? Sure! But I can only work with what I know. It was David Mamet (I think) who said something about the audience member being the smartest person in the room, and when someone likes a piece or connects with it, I feel that they may be saying that I got that one “right.” I trust that feedback.
What are some things that influenced your work? I smell aromas of Edward Hopper (stark, graphic silhouettes against memorable skies), the Wyeths, especially Jamie Wyeth (that inexpressible, almost suffocating sense of strangeness), and David Lynch (suburban, American horror). Even a bit of your professor Wayne Thiebaud in there (everyday objects treated with exaggerated lighting and colors to make them appear alien). And The X-Files. Or better yet, Leonard Nimoy’s In Search of . . .
Film, yes, is a huge influence. It is the art form of the day. And Edward Hopper and Wayne Thiebaud are definitely in there. But other artists are Albert Pinkham Ryder, Giorgio di Chirico, Morandi, and Elmer Bischoff. An increasing influence is my first college art professor, Wally Hedrick. Beethoven was a huge influence. I also enjoy the sciences very much: animals, natural phenomenon, the fossil record, astronomy, etc. And I am mournful in my work, too, of the fact that many things like UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, et al., probably do not exist. In Search of . . . was a fun show, though!
Your works also seems to embrace many elements of twentieth-century American culture, as if it were trying to articulate a uniquely American folklore that characterized the culture’s beliefs and anxieties in the twentieth century. Is that fair, or am I reading too much into things again?
I don’t think you’re reading in too much. But not all of it is conscious on my part. There is a lot going on right now that has the whole world anxious. We’re all feeling it. It is almost certainly why so much art these days rests on an apocalyptic theme and many artists are working with what they themselves feel about the whole thing in one way or another.
I know that The Wizard of Oz and Star Wars both rawked your world hard as a kid and that you never fully got over them. If you had to live in a parallel universe where only one of them existed, which one would you choose and why?
I like them both but I would definitely choose Star Wars. It is a bigger place with more places to go. Wizard of Oz was more of an early childhood influence, but I would like to go hang out at the bar in Mos Eisley.
Tell us about your brief but passionate relationship with George Lucas.
Ha! I met him only once, very briefly, crossing paths on a stairway landing. I said hello and he said hello back. But I certainly remember!
What’s the deal with all the tornados?
Hmm. In a way, this goes back to one of your prior questions, about fine art vs. illustration. And maybe tornadoes were a kind of meeting point between what was considered legitimate (a real thing) and nonlegitimate (Godzilla) in art. That might be part of it. But I think, too, that just about everybody has an inherent response and feeling about the power of nature, whether it is the ocean, the Grand Canyon, volcanoes, tornadoes, etc. Matter of fact, there are a number of amazing, if not famous, volcano paintings out there.
Do you listen to music when you paint? My guess is yes and that you listen to anachronistic stuff like the Everly Brothers’ “All I Have to Do Is Dream.” But maybe that’s me reading David Lynch influences into your work again.
I sometimes listen to talk radio, but not always. If I do listen to music, it is often jazz, but I am very fond of modern classical music composers like Ligeti and Penderecki. But you are correct, too: The other day I heard “Candy Colored Clown” (aka Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” from Blue Velvet) on the radio and turned it up!
LACMA mounts a career retrospective of all of your works. There is a terrible fire. You have time to save only one of your paintings from the inferno. Choose.
Most overrated artist ever?
I used to have a lot of fun with this question, but the idea of rating artists is falling away. There are so many folks doing art these days, so much imagery afloat. It is hard to spend time attacking anything when you only have to look in a different direction to see something exciting. Beyond that, it is the responsibility of the artist and collector alike to stay in touch with what is possible by visiting the museums and not just the galleries.
Name something you love that most people hate.
Modern classical music!
Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you wished I had?
Not offhand. I’ll probably think of something in a few weeks.
What is your dream project?
I always thought it would be fun to do an art piece that was like a ride. Fortunately, someone like Banksy just did a kind of Disneyland satire called Dismaland that people could attend. Look it up if you have a moment, because it is by all accounts very immersive and successful. But I always thought it would be fun to do something like that, but maybe more like a single ride rather than the whole park.
Spread the word!