Sunday, August 4, 2019

Interview with artist BRAD WILSON by Dave Wolff

Interview with BRAD WILSON

You are a graphic artist as well as a photographer and clothing designer. How long were you interested in these mediums before you decided to pursue them professionally?
Early on in my teenage years, I wanted to direct movies. I still have a deep love for classic Hollywood and the world of cinema, however, where a director can build a world off of an hour-plus in a film, a photo can be just as powerful or even earthshaking with so much less. It's a challenge. I love following the work of Stephen Dupont. He is a traveler and his work with the death customs of India are so powerful and beautiful. That's ultimately my goal with photography into just see and document the world, I find huge inspiration from Robert Ripley in that aspect. As far as clothing design and graphic art, I always dabbled in it as a teen and I just kind started putting pieces together about two years ago of DBZ characters in the real world, and things just sort of blossomed from there.

Which eras of Hollywood cinema do you relate to and why? Who are the directors you admire?
I'm huge into 80's and 90's slasher films. John Carpenter, man he's a god with the pen and synth. The original Halloween was a huge inspiration on me with how much it plays with the mind. I love a good John Hughes style high school film. Then there's Blade Runner, the granddaddy of synthwave style films. The gritty future soaked in smoke and neon. That's probably where a lot of the inspiration for my art starts to end when it comes to cinema, on a more personal note, I was raised a lot on older Golden Age cinema through my father. He would always have a Cowboy flick or an old 1950's B Sci-Fi movie like "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or "I Walked with a Zombie". I was always told my father tried to name me Frankenfurter.

How inspirational has Robert Ripley’s work with Believe It Or Not! been? What blurbs by him made an impression on you?
The thing I love most about Ripley was his sense of discovery. He, himself, was a very odd man. Very unassuming in his social stature. He just loved discovering new things in an age where much of the world was still unrecognizable to the layman. I think one of the things that made a huge impression on me was the fact that he actually gave Charles Schulz his start in cartooning, who would go on to create Charlie Brown and The Peanuts. 

What inspired you to design clothes based on the characters of Dragon Ball Z? In what ways did your work convince you that you should continue? Do you watch a lot of anime?
Dragon Ball Z is just a very inspiring anime. It teaches a lot of great values about inner strength and doing what's right, but not necessarily in a Boy Scout way. One of the interesting qualities about Goku is he turns most of his enemies into friends. At first, I was just making fun images and suddenly they started catching fire with people and I was receiving messages about prints, which got me thinking about turning them into shirts, phone cases, and honestly tons of other products. I love shirts, but a lot of the stuff you see in stores is just lacking in a style that fits at least what I like. If others like it as well, that is awesome in my opinion. I'm just making stuff that I like and represents the styles that I'm into. 

What did you mean by saying you play with vaporwave and synthwave sensibilities to evoke a dreamy nostalgic experience?
If you look at society today, there's a lot of us that are stuck between a generation of the future and that of the past. Everything from music to movies these days are trying to ride the same wave we've already ridden before. That nostalgic familiarity that fills us with that sense of belonging and comfort. We are trying to recapture those feelings of childhood adventure or far-off worlds or even lost love. We're all just trying to feel something to validate our existence. The term Nostalgia is derived from two Greek root words meaning "homecoming" and "pain", because when you boil it down, nostalgia is longing for something that has already passed and longing can be quite painful. And if the pain that I pour into some of my pieces ends up making someone's day even just a little bit brighter; then I would consider that I've done a good job.

Do you think Hollywood is running out of ideas and pop music has become stale, formulaic and stagnant? Or are you referring to something else entirely?
We are a Society by Sample, and what I mean by that is everything has been done before. Every riff played, every word written. I don't think they've run out of ideas in the slightest. There is still very intelligent marketing and films being put out in Hollywood. But, they are a business and businesses sometimes have to play it safe and sell what sells. Think about it like this. There's the WWE, a massive conglomerate entity for wrestling. They do their thing their way. It's a clean and polished product. They are the Disney of wrestling, then there's the indie scene that is so full of all these ideas that are just different. They aren't in competition, they are different products. Just like Hollywood and popular music.

Do you prefer movies that play it safe or movies that take chances, mainstream or independent?
I love the weird shit. I grew up on B horror and Sci-Fi. I understand playing it safe and that there are times you need to. Like the Marvel films, they played it safe for a bit until they were able to get really weird with “Guardians of the Galaxy”. There is this great film called “Happy Death Day”. It's basically “Ground Hog's Day” as a slasher film, then the sequel turned everything on its head and became a Sci-Fi film.

Are you referring to the B horror and sci fi of the 1950s and 60s, or also movies of other eras?
More in a broad sense. I love horror history, old black and white Sci-Fi like "The Twilight Zone" and the original "The Day the Earth Stood Still". Regularly you can usually find me watching "Halloween" or "Friday the 13th". "Return of the Living Dead" is one I'm particularly fond of. Especially Linnea Quigley's performance as Trash. 

What about “Happy Death Day” would you recommend to people if they haven’t watched it?
Modern horror is hard to get right in my opinion, but that one does interesting things. I don't want to spoil too much, but this set of films plays with classic horror tropes in a lot of fun ways. The sequel is especially neat because it actually is an entire genre shift. But, again, I don't want to spoil anything for those that haven't seen it.
Old B Horror and Sci Fi films surely helped shape things I thought were cool. I always love a good villain. I'd also say from a technical standpoint, I use a lot of elements from CRT and scan lines along with a lot of like VHS glitch elements. I like to implement the tiny details from when we were kids. It's those small lo-fi visual and auditory cues that help set it off.

How do you account for the gravitation toward nostalgia since the turn of the century?
I think there are a few factors. Life is cyclical. A lot of people believe that 9/11 was the death of innocence, and that was the true ending of the 90s. That is when America had a massive wake-up call. I don't like to get political, so I'm not going to go in that direction, but ever since then, society in our country has been different. With nostalgic escapism, we're able to relive those emotions we had as a child when would pick up a stick out of the yard and fight invisible monsters for what felt like twenty days in the span of just a couple of hours after school. Go and listen to a few tracks from the band The Midnight, and think about the first time you saw "Back to the Future", think about the first time that you and your friends stayed up all night watching horror movies, or racing home before the street lights came on. It's a late Americana. Everything was so much bigger back then, you know? Emotions were so much broader and not concisely stuffed into a box, like they are when we get older and understand things more. It's all about that childhood wonderment. Every ten years or so we bounce back and forth between 80's and 90's obsession. We have parties based around the 20's. Humans as a culture obsess over the past and history.

How does your work channel nostalgia into something brighter and more positive?
It depends on the piece I'm working on. Maybe it's the longing of somewhere I've always wanted to see; so I then build that world. Or maybe it's just a piece to bring me zen as I work on it. It's hard to narrow down something so metaphysical when not in the moment.

Going by feedback from your viewers on social media, how does your work speak to them?
I'd have to say, based around the reaction I get from people at art shows; it takes a lot of people back to getting off school and running home to watch Dragon Ball Z or Sailor Moon on Toonami. It's always a time of excitement. Online? Fans don't reach out much. Every now and then a fan messages and says my work makes them remember some good times. I love fan interaction, but stuff like Facebook Algorithms destroys indie artists unless you cough up the dough.

Do you see people taking more time to engage in conversation and really discuss your work at art shows? At what shows were you were able to do so?
I would say so, probably something to do with the face to face aspect. Putting identity to the artist can help. I myself, usually stay very behind a screen. I sort of prefer my art to speak for me. I'd rather get by on merit and feeling than silver-tongued sales or someone being creepily interested in me on a personal basis. Hell, I hardly even date or go to bars and concerts. I truly enjoy meeting my fans but I'm just quite awkward. I guess from their side of the table some artists, especially more prolific ones, just don't seem human.
I've only done a few local shows. I feel like I have more luck online, but I enjoy working at shows with charities involved. I've been working with the Yellowhammer Fund in Alabama to benefit the fight for women's rights. Shows can be stressful. I had one recently where I had a blowout on my car which ended up then getting busted in and they took the battery. Imagine that after a whole day of work then a night at an art show. Stress city, man. I'm already getting grey, haha.

-Dave Wolff

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