We spoke with Brandon Geurts about the foreignness of having a body, questioning linearity and binaries, being attracted to obnoxious colors and breaking the conventional logic of visual personhood.
The human figure is a tremendous opportunity for exploration because it’s something that is so inherently familiar to us yet so strange and foreign.
Your work with watercolor and oil has got a lot of visceral elements to it – colorful flesh, disjointed bodies and depictions of violent acts. What is the artistic value of the human body to you? What moves you to recreate it in such jarring ways?
For me, the human figure is a tremendous opportunity for exploration because it’s something that is so inherently familiar to us yet so strange and foreign. As humans, we’re more intimately aware of our own bodies than with any other aspect of our existence. We take for granted that we interact with other things and other people in specific ways. These assertions are reinforced by social structures and handed down to us without our consent.
The thrill of working with the figure comes in reexamining and reconfiguring how we interact with the world around us, putting pressure on these assumptions. If you’re willing to break conventional logic, there are hundreds of unique ways you could depict a figure drinking from a cup or two figures expressing personal affection. This plasticity forces us to challenge our perception of how the body works and, I hope, leads the viewer to question some of the gender norms or binaries that they have been taught.
I watch a lot of film and it’s informed the way I define my relationship with the human figure. One thing that’s always struck me about the medium is how it requires mutual engagement between the viewer and the viewed. More than any other medium, I think film uses our understanding of our bodies to force an empathetic connection.
The use of bodily forms also reminds me of the inherent disgust we all feel about our physical vessels. We’re constantly hiding, disguising or using chemical means to change our nature. Are you grossed out or enthralled by being in a body?
I’m not necessarily grossed out by the prospect of being in a body, but I do get a sense of anxiety from it. Bodies themselves do not come across as physically repulsive or “disgusting” to me. Neither do their functions.
Rather, the anxiety comes from a perceived struggle between my mind and my body. Sometimes, my mind has a hard time comprehending that my body is relatively an independent entity. I will often react involuntarily to certain stimuli or stresses, to the point where I develop a kind of “muscle memory” for thoughts and experiences. The worry is that at a certain point, I might have become subtly influenced to think and act a certain way because my body has learned those ideas from years of social conditioning. The fear isn’t necessarily being a body, it’s being a public body that scares me.
Body horror, as a genre of film, has always really resonated with me because it uses our understanding of bodies to communicate ideas about how we relate to ourselves and society. On a surface level, it’s about the destruction of a body or transformation into what society codes as abnormal, but these how certain ideas and thoughts externalize themselves. The body itself is simply a vessel for these ideas to manifest.
Can you tell me what colors are most evocative to you? What was the first hue you were drawn to as a youth?
Aggressive orange hues were the first colors that really struck me as a child. I’m not particularly sure what drew me to them, but I’ve always been attracted to colors that come off as abrasive or obnoxious. That still remains true now.
Nowadays, I consider harsh neon colors to be incredibly evocative and useful to my work. Part of it might be having lived in Florida for close to ten years, part of it might be a subconscious attraction to Internet/vaporwave “aesthetic.” I think harsh neons can be incredibly good at overstimulating when they’re used right.
I don’t necessarily think of my work in terms of specific series, but as a somewhat continuous affair where ideas resurface and fade into the background.
Can you describe your workspace and what you’re currently working on? How is it similar to or different than your past work?
I’m in the process of moving to Washington D.C. in December, so things are in a bit of a transitory state at the moment. My studio situation is not really going to be the same in a couple of weeks. I recently finished up a new body of work for a solo exhibition in Orlando, which should be open at the time of this writing.
Right now, I’m trying to work on a series of small graphite drawings. I want to see how I can convey my ideas without falling back on certain crutches like abundant and aggressive color and wet media. I don’t necessarily think of my work in terms of specific series, but as a somewhat continuous affair where ideas resurface and fade into the background.
I’ve also been working on using animation as a tool. The animations I’m currently doing are rough and digital, but they could serve as a complement to the paintings and drawings. It’s another way for me to explore my connections to film.
Can you recall the first time you knowingly lied to someone? Did they fall for it? Why did you have to lie?
I’m incredibly awful at lying. Maybe it’s because I don’t really train myself to do so, but whenever I do lie, it is incredibly easy to tell. People can tell right away if I’m lying. It’s actually hard for me to remember the first time I lied to someone. Sometimes, I would lie about having done my homework so I could play video games or watch TV or something. Like I said, though, it’s pretty easy to catch. No one falls for it. I generally don’t do it, and that’s honestly been more detrimental sometimes than actually lying would have been.
What is your conception of ugliness or grotesquerie? Is negativity a force we create with effort, or can we find that in our daily lives without much effort?
I always look back to Umberto Eco’s book On Ugliness. It’s this interesting examination of figures in Western art that are considered ugly. Demons, peasants, ghosts, deformities, you name it. According to Eco, we traditionally see ugliness and beauty are two sides of the same coin. You can’t really have a concept of what is ugliness without first defining a type of beauty.
Where On Ugliness becomes interesting is that, at a certain point, many of these ugly figures begin to engage in beautiful acts and the lines become blurred. He presents these “grotesque” figures in a very ambiguous and exploratory light. As the book goes on, he begins to engage in a kind of empathy with the figures. Through this empathy, Eco condemns the system which classifies ideas as “ugly” and marginalizes them.
The trouble is, once you start defining what is beautiful or ugly in your art, you become limited to a binary understanding of the world. You either fit in to a certain socially acceptable standard or you don’t. More elegant modes of passing are shunned because they are more gradual in nature. In my work, these figures deal with the effects of trying to pass for normal in this system or the effects of rejection by the system.
I’d like you to briefly meditate on three images: hooks, lights and data. What does each evoke in your mind? Does a story or anecdote come to mind in relation to any of those?
I think of some kind of unseen, hypothetical physical force pulling me back. For some reason, when I visualize hooks, I don’t actually see the hooks.
Kind of varies what comes to mind what I think of lights. Usually, I think of going to a punk show or a metal show. I’ve always been interested in exploring the artifice and awkwardness of a stage, like one you see at a bar, but unfortunately, I’ve never really found a good way of replicating or expanding on that setting in a drawing.
I think of flickering screens and images and algorithms repeating onto themselves. I think of categorizing without a need or end goal. Feels like a cliché for me as a millennial artist to talk about overstimulation and information, but I can’t deny that those themes don’t find their way into my work somehow. It’s something I can’t really escape.
I’m afraid of problems so grandiose that I can’t necessarily comprehend them becoming a reality, much less doing anything to stop them.
Do you have any knowledge of electronics or electrical engineering? Whether or not you do, can you describe the extent of your knowledge, or lack thereof?
I don’t really have any knowledge of electrical engineering, or at least not the logistics of it. My knowledge of electrical systems is as a kind of abstraction which consumes and excretes information. Part of this has to do with being raised around the Internet for most of my natural life. I’m not interested in making art about the Internet, but it’s impossible to deny that being around so much information and avenues of receiving that information has irreversibly changed the way I think and act.
In film, particularly science fiction, electrical systems become sort of a magical situation which detaches itself from reality. We see elaborate control panels and screens, but to keep the plot moving, we’re not really given explanation what makes them work. We’re supposed to take for granted that these systems just work. It’s a given that the Death Star destroys planets, but we never figure out how and where it generates the power to do so.
Another example: There is so much about David Lynch’s work that I admire and respect, but one thing that’s particularly fascinated me is how he represents machinery and electricity in his films. He obviously grew up in a very different time with an entirely different relationship to electricity, so he’s interested in different aspects of its physicality — the crackle and hiss of pipes, steam and smoke. He represents electricity as a force that’s neutral yet inherently associated with unnatural sensation.
Finally, what is your greatest fear in the world? How do you beat it back, cover it up or embrace it day-to-day?
I’m afraid of problems so grandiose that I can’t necessarily comprehend them becoming a reality, much less doing anything to stop them. Things like nuclear war, irreversible and devastating climate change, or some celestial body coming in out of the blue and destroying us. Right now, nuclear war’s probably the big one for reasons I hope should be obvious.
I suppose these fears do eventually find a way into my work. It’s not specifically about any one of those things, but it does inform the way I see the figures. Sometimes, I get this idea of my figures being in some posthuman condition where they’ve adapted to some horrible condition that’s they’ve been exposed to; that they’re on this level of bare survival, where what’s needed for them to live has become so radically different. Their new means of interacting with the world may seem disturbing to us, but they’re used to it.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: November 24, 2017
Total questions: 9
Word count: 1927
Reading time: Seven minutes
acrylic, affection, art, binary, body, Brandon Geurts, color, cup, data, David Lynch, Death Star, deformity, disturbance, electricity, elegance, empathy, fear, force, grotesque, hook, horror, hypothesis, idea, independence, light, marginalization, obnoxious, orange, paint, peasant, repulsion, sensation, terraforming, TV, ugliness, Umberto Eco, vessel
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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