A conversation with Neal Breton


    We spoke with Neal Breton about growing up as an autodidact, overfeeding his viewers with color, his fear of becoming obsolete, how the world exploits artists who don’t value themselves and why human beings ultimately do whatever they want.

    Anyone creating visually is infatuated with color. Some people like to starve their viewer, I tend to overfeed.

    We asked Neal to tell us the first thing that came to mind when he thought of these colors.

    Grass. This is my go-to color when a painting looks off.

    Complex. Night sky. I’m answering all of these in relation to my paintings. I’m a single-celled organism apparently.

    I first thought of the Star Wars Crimson Guard, then I thought about G.I. Joe. I think they had a Crimson Guard too. My nerd is showing.

    The official color of slumlords everywhere. I hate this color.

    Pools. If I had a favorite color it would probably be aquamarine.

    I wish I thought of the bird first, but I use cardinal when I paint solo cups.

    I once knew an artist who was really good at painting crystals. I also remember a comic book in the ’80s called Amethyst.

    Flamingos. I love those damn birds, they are so weird.

    This also made me think of flamingos. I think a flock of flamingos should be called a fandango. I think they’re called a flamboyance, which is just over the top.

    Lightning. It’s also my secret sky or pool mixing color. Take a little bit of electric yellow, some white, and some aquamarine and you’ve got a darn nice pool painting.


    Morgan Enos

    There’s almost a jarring sense of color and contrast with your paintings. They tend to show a relatively peaceful tableau – often pools, backyards and recreational settings – but there are tons of strange color clashes and mysterious negative space to my eye. What leads you to choose that subject matter, illustrated with fluorescent colors?

    Neal Breton

    Anyone creating visually is infatuated with color. Some people like to starve their viewer, I tend to overfeed. Color is an amazing thing, you know? It’s not verbal but it has its own language in every culture around the world. I’m not brave enough to do abstracts, so I try and give the viewer something relatable as a vehicle for my color experiments. I love plants and large fields of color. I love architecture and it’s important to push myself to learn the human form, so this series I’m doing expresses all the things I need to get off my chest.

    When I approach creating something, I first ask myself “How far can I take this space before it becomes too much? What can I get away with?” Midway through a piece, I take a visual inventory of sorts. At that point I’m asking “If I was looking at this painting for the first time, would I give a shit about it?”

    It’s funny that you say the colors clash. I’m always trying to make informed decisions about color and tone and shade, but not to the point of a clash.


    Well, I may have misused the word “clash.” Rather, it seems like you are looking to juxtapose the opposite sides of the color wheel, in a way. I’m not a visual artist, so I might be mischaracterizing it… what techniques do you use to choose the perfect hue, gradient or contrast?

    Well, you might be right. Not every painting is a home run. Some are dead ends, some are bridges to better work. I’ve deleted several things in this series that I thought worked, but after showing them a couple of times with no response, I sanded and painted them over. I am still learning what works and what doesn’t, even after 20+ years. It’s fun when some color combinations work on certain subjects, like umbrellas or chairs, but using the same combos on walls or plants can make me want to throw up. I hope I never get bored of trying or failing.


    Please tell me about each medium you choose for your art and why. What does each have the ability to express for you that the others don’t?

    I use basically three different kinds of mediums and I’m always painting on wood panels. I use acrylic the most. It’s the anchor of all of my work because it allows me to be chromatically versatile and it dries fast. I use Nova Color, a company based out of Culver City, CA. It’s mostly used as a mural paint but I noticed some of my favorite artists using it, bought some and never looked back. It does all the work sometimes. I also use acrylic-based gouache from Holbein. It’s another, no-fuss kind of product that dries fast, usually only needs one coat and comes in a lot of great colors. The only problem is that it’s expensive and comes in a tiny tube. I use spray paint as well, almost always MTN 94, which is a Spanish company that makes low pressure high pigmented paint. They have a robust palette of colors, which is nice considering I can’t exactly mix my own spray paint. I probably use spray mediums the least because there is so much taping off involved, and overspray issues and bleeding and then when it’s dry, it’s easily scuffed. But oh, does it just light up. It’s so great to see a nice, flat, even field of color.

    Before my stint as the owner of a small art supply store, my supply vocabulary began and ended with canvas, Basics acrylic paint and brushes. Once people started coming in to the store asking for things I’ve never heard of or tried, my repertoire expanded. Realizing there’s a difference between shitty Krylon spray paint and MTN 94 really taught me about the longevity of my work and how to price it accordingly.


    Do you remember your favorite moment of operating your own art supply store? What about your least favorite moment? Are you a very social guy who’s good with strangers, randoms and looky-loos in a retail setting, or do you struggle with that?

    My favorite part was the interaction between other artists and myself – to have a place that served as a hub, a place to talk about new ideas and a place to put those ideas into action. My least favorite moments are too many to name. The day-to-day monotony of owning your own business is at the top, though. I am certainly glad to be picking up a paycheck nowadays.

    I think I am very conscious of how I present my work, not to the degree of taking myself so seriously to consider how I’m branding myself, but that I am approachable and professional.


    What are you currently working on? How is it similar or dissimilar to what’s present on your website and portfolio?

    I was recently told that a working artist is organized and tidy, and an “arteeest” has a disheveled and haphazard operating system. I run a pretty tight ship between paintings, but if I’m into a project things are at the level or organized chaos. I think I am very conscious of how I present my work, not to the degree of taking myself so seriously to consider how I’m branding myself, but that I am approachable and professional. I would hope my website isn’t too much of a train wreck considering I’m a Luddite at heart.


    Well, in what way do you consider yourself a Luddite? Do you think technological advances are going in a direction you don’t like? Do you prefer tactility to the digital world?

    Well, maybe not a Luddite. But my technology is cringe-worthy. I stay far away from all Apple and Microsoft related products. I have a Blackberry phone that runs Android and a Chromebook laptop. My technology serves as a drug mule, recording or saving images only to upload them on my social media platforms. Technology overall is going in a healthy direction – in fact, we should be more advanced – but as long as the money’s in old school stuff like oil we will probably never see much progress. The abuse of social media has definitely made the world an awful place full of cowards who would rather tweet then say it in person. I already had a feeling that the world was an terrible place, the Internet just proves it. So when I post stuff, I try to be funny, escapist or anything but awful. Part of my Ludditism definitely comes from an irrational fear of being obsolete as a visual maker. I still buy CDs and records despite having a Spotify account, I still want musicians to make something I can hold in my hand, and I think art will always, hopefully, have a place with people like me.


    Are you a minimalist or maximalist in your personal life? Are you more prone to collect everything with possible sentimental value or that you might “use at some point in your life,” or are you like me in that you’d rather throw things out that become a hinderance or eyesore?

    I try and be as minimalist as possible. I own books, art, and music. I’m still wearing shirts I bought in high school. I still own CDs from when I worked at Virgin Megastore in the ’90s. If I have a lot of stuff, I don’t really care about it much. You know that question people ask, “What would you save from a fire if all your loved ones were safe?” I always have to think hard about that because I don’t give a shit about any of it enough to not walk away from it. I may get sentimental at times, but it’s usually for people or places, not things. I think that’s why I price my artwork to move. I don’t shed a tear when I sell a good piece for a few hundred less than I could have. Make another one. Make five more. Whatever, just keep it going.

    Neal Breton's studio. Detail.
    Neal Breton's studio. Detail.


    I’d like you to describe your closest friends and family – not necessarily from a third-person perspective, but how they influence your psychological behavior. From whom do your tics, hang-ups, irritations and overall demeanor come from, just from spending a lot of time with those particular people?

    It’s less about who influenced it and more about who didn’t. I can without a doubt say my mom informed my fiery, short-tempered disposition. I owe any amount of success to my mom. She sacrificed her dreams to move us out to California from New Hampshire so we could survive. She is my favorite person.

    I was a chubby, curly-haired, comic-book-loving latchkey kid for most of my childhood so I learned a lot of things on my own. I’m mostly self-taught in my artistic disciplines. I would say I’m self sufficient and rarely ever lonely. I’m not proud of the fact that in the last 10 years I’ve grown more introverted. It’s probably for the better that I stay away from most people, because I tend to feel disappointed when people do what people do, which is whatever the fuck they want.

    Artists and musicians do not frequently value themselves, and marketers, building developers and business owners take advantage of that fact.


    Please describe the last thing that irritated or put you on-edge.

    The last thing that irritated me goes back to what I said previously, about people just being people and how I can get disappointed in them. An artist friend was having second thoughts about doing an event for the New Times, a local weekly rag here in San Luis Obispo, CA. It’s their annual Battle of the Bands or award show or whatever, and supposedly it’s a charity event so they wanted her to donate a piece or partake in the event where she would be painting while the event was going on. For free. At her expense, actually, because not only were they not paying her, nor was the venue paying her, but they expected her to bring her own materials and take time off of work.

    She told me her buyers, her personal clients who purchase her work, were upset because she was giving away a piece of her work for free essentially. “How is this a dilemma?!” I asked. “Your responsibility is to your clients, tell the New Times to pay you or fuck off.” No business like that is going to do something for free, everyone gets paid and then the charity gets what’s left over. Artists and musicians do not frequently value themselves, and marketers, building developers and business owners take advantage of that fact. It’s a job like any other yet creatives constantly undersell themselves. What would the world be without art and music? More importantly, how would they know the history of the world?


    What’s a typical day like for you, from waking to going to bed? Can you describe it on a nearly hour-by-hour schedule?

    I don’t sleep well, so I am up and sleeping at random hours of the day. For the most part, I get up around 6 a.m., feed our cat, look out the window, look at Instagram for a few minutes, try to catch a small nap until 7:30, then it’s off to get coffee on the way to work. I work for an architecture firm for about 6 or 7 hours, then I’m back home to eat, read and paint until about 9 or 10 at night. I’ll watch a little Internet TV for a bit then I sleep for a few hours, wake up in random intervals to read and start all over again. This schedule will be changing quite a bit come January as my partner is expecting. Having a kid changes everything, so I’m told.


    Congratulations! That reminds me of my personal interest in child development in relation to creativity. Could you tell me about what went through your mind as a child on a creative level? What textures, colors or sensations calmed you or made you happy on a subconscious level? Do they still do so today?

    Art really wasn’t a prevalent thing in my life as a child up until I was 10 or 12. The most art I saw was in comic books. I can remember two things very vividly, though. The smell of crayons brings me back to a basement somewhere in New Hampshire, at a day care facility. I was once asked why I colored everything yellow on the page, and I said I didn’t know, but it was because I loved that yellow crayon!

    I can remember another time when I was maybe five or so, trying to draw something and the lines kept coming out wrong. I was so frustrated I ran to my mom and told her about it. She went to look at what I was doing and told me that the bumpy surface underneath was ruining my lines. I was drawing on top of some books. It was one of those moments that developed my common sense synapse. If I have any talent at all, it’s because I am trying to incorporate common sense when approaching visual projects.


    Finally, please briefly meditate on these three objects – lumber, palm trees, VHS tapes. What comes to mind first? Do you have an anecdote or memory connected with any of those objects?


    I think of trees and when I think of trees I think of Big Sur, a place I would love to live if I became rich suddenly.

    Palm trees

    California. I love palm trees, rows of them make me so happy. I wish I could paint them better. Every time I see someone paint them well, I study it profusely.


    I remember recording football games when I was a kid. I came across a tape the other day, it was of some NFL Pro Bowl game. I had a laugh, it was fun to watch for a few minutes, mostly because of the ads. I think I love VHS, I had Rocko’s Modern Life and The Young Ones on VHS and I still have a Nirvana bootleg concert tape.


    Thank you.


    Conversation: 58
    Curated by: Morgan Enos
    Conducted by: Email
    Published: November 1, 2017
    Total questions: 12 + 10
    Word count: 2639
    Reading time: Nine minutes
    Hyperlinks: 6
    Imagery: 10 + 3


    Infatuation: Color
    Flamingo: Damn
    Happiness: Palm trees
    Monotony: Avoided
    Heart: Luddite
    Yellow: Electric
    Latchkey kid: Neal Breton


    About the subject

    Neal Breton is a painter living in San Luis Obispo, California.

    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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