Earlier this year, April 25th marked an anniversary that many Flint, Michigan residents would rather forget. Three years ago the city of Flint switched the city’s water supply from the Great Lakes Water Authority to the highly corrosive Flint River. Over the ensuing three years, Flint residents would stage protests and aim to expose politicians responsible for the disastrous switch over. Along with the help of protests from Flint residents and the work of veteran news reporters like the Michigan ACLU’s Curt Guyette the Flint Water crisis was brought into the national spotlight. Three years have passed and not much has changed, find out more about the Flint Water Crisis on the Michigan ACLU and on Detroit Metro Times.
For third release in the 1xRUN Flint Water Crisis Print Suite we are excited to welcome in Brandon Boyd who brings us the This Way Comes. While on tour with his band Incubus here in Michigan we were able to catch up with the multi-talented musician and painter for this very special release with a portion of the proceeds going to the Michigan ACLU and the Flint Child Health & Development Fund. Read on as Brandon Boyd gives us a look into his process below, and watch the Michigan ACLU’s comprehensive documentary to find out more behind the Flint Water Crisis. To donate directly head to the Michigan ACLU here and The Flint Child Health & Development Fund of the Foundation of Flint here. Stay tuned as we are very excited to announce more artists who will be joining Brandon Boyd, alongside recent releases from Robbie Conal and Shepard Fairey, as well as upcoming editions from Doze Green and Maya Hayuk as part of this ongoing series…
1xRUN: Tell us a little bit about this piece, when was it created?
Brandon Boyd: I did this piece, I want to say a little under a year ago. A friend of mine named Lauren, who I’ve painted before, was kind enough to pose so I could capture her likeness so to speak. I was purposefully trying to be a bit more loose with my wrist. I can get overly specific with my line work. My own sort of criticism of my work is that I can get a little too precious about it, so occasionally I will use a damaged brush, or leave pencil marks and things like that to make it not as precious so that way something else can come through. So this piece is kind of an example of that.
1x: What materials were used to create this original piece? Was it a larger piece?
Boyd: Pencil and watercolor. That’s it. And a damaged brush…that should have been the name of this piece maybe. The original was pretty large, 42 x 29.5 inches.
1x: Was this piece part of a series that you were working on at the time or a one off on it’s own?
Boyd: It was part of a couple years of work that have been more figurative watercolor pieces. I have really been trying to capture people to the best of my ability, with a really challenging medium in watercolor. Watercolor is confounding to me. Right when you think you have control of it, you don’t. Which is great, because it keeps me in a relative state of humility.
1x: Let’s talk about the model for this piece, do you work from photo references or how do you go about setting up creating a piece like this?
Boyd: The model for this piece is my friend Lauren. On the other release that we’ve done are a different Lauren, I have a few friend’s named Lauren that are kind enough to sit for me.
Sometimes I’ll just draw them in place, just do a sketch there. That’s kind of how I learned how to draw the more realistic people stuff. But then if somebody doesn’t have that amount of time I’ll just shoot them too. Do a small kind of photo shoot and just use the photo reference. For this one it was a photo reference.
1x: How long did the idea and execution come about for the composition?
Boyd: My works very rarely have a concept in mind other than I’m sort of trying to capture a moment, and just run with it from there. Just allow a controlled chaos to show something that you maybe wouldn’t see at a glance. So with a piece like this I just caught her in a moment on the camera, and then did the painting from that and kind of let paint slip and lines fall, and these quasi-chaotic images emerged out of those experiments. I rarely know what I’m doing when I begin. It’s the same thing with music. I don’t have a lot of premeditation with most of my paintings.
Recently I’ve been working on a series of watercolors where I have a little bit more of an idea as to what I’m trying to accomplish, but it’s more so just in the vibration. I spill watercolor onto a piece of paper and let it dry, and then find images in the mess. I definitely don’t know what it’s going to be, but I have an idea that ok, today I’m going to spill some paint and let it dry and see what I can see in it. That’s actually a lot of how I work.
1x: Was that how you approached this piece with that same style?
Boyd: Well with this piece I started out with some pencil lines and made a series of mistakes, which is kind of amazing with painting. A lot of it is similar to live music, you work with your mistakes. It’s an old jazz ethos where if you fuck up you do it three times. I mean to do it. That’s one of the things I love about painting. There’s such a thing as “I fucked it up” or maybe there’s not. You just change things and go a different direction.
1x: How has your style evolved over the years, some of the things featured in these earlier books we have are a bit more illustrative or abstract, and it seems like with this current style you’re blending the two a bit more now, is that a conscious effort?
Boyd: I’ve been noticing that lately too. Most of it is unconscious. Doing my best to follow a unconscious little things that pop up. I’ll notice little things that I’ll find stylistically, I’d fall in love in love with them, or out of love with them. But it’s been a lot of fun to marry the more figurative things with the more intricate line work. I honestly don’t know where it’s going.
I’ve been doing lines like this since I was like 12. I’m not the only one that does this type of work, I’ve seen lots of it across social media as just line artists who are fascinated with the line. It does something for me, and I have to assume it does something for the objective viewer as well. There’s something almost comforting about it.
1x: Yea, I know some artists have said that it’s a bit of a mandala type thing, more meditative with the repetition.
Boyd: Yea, there’s a gentle repetition to it that is guiding your eye along something, it’s like you’re being guided down a river in a drone shot. Or the topographic lines in a map. You see those lines when the tide is out around an estuary of some kind. You see the pictures of where there once was water on Mars. It all creates the same kind of lines. They all point towards the same thing and it does something really nice, not only to make them but to look at them too.
1x: What strides do you think you’ve made with this piece, how were you trying to push yourself?
Boyd: With this one there were as many mistakes in this piece as there were triumphs. It made me become more enamored with it. There were a couple moments where I didn’t think it was going to see the light of day. I didn’t think it’d be able to be rescued. But you keep adding to it, layering and layering, and something else is revealed. You get to that place where you thought you’ve fucking ruined it, and it becomes the turning point in the painting. I honestly think that’s one of the greatest parts about painting and the creative process. If you look at from the right perspective there really are no mistakes. Which is really great. To be participating in a process where you’re allowed to fuck up, and crumple it up and throw it away and never see it again. Or you can make the choice to turn the thing 180 degrees and see a different view of it that maybe you weren’t intending and run with it.
1x: What’s your studio approach like when you hit a wall like that, are you working on a few pieces at one time or do you get a bit more tunnel visioned?
Boyd: I usually am tunnel visioned on one thing. I’ve kinda always been that way. I have some friends that can do that and do multiple paintings or songs at one time. I get really single-minded. If I know something is not working and it can’t be salvaged I’ll move on from it. But 90% of the time I commit. I’ll see something in it that’s good enough to be able to redeem the mistakes that I’ve made. I’m so glad that I did because I love this piece.
1x: I agree, this is one of my favorites and seems to be the furthest along in blending the styles with line work into the figurative. We were looking at some of these sketchbook pieces in your book So The Echo as well, they have these searching feel to them…
Boyd: The pieces in the book were right when I started to stumble onto the fun idea of finding the random imagery in the paint spills. Shayna Neis Dumbro wrote the forward and she talks about it a little bit. It’s like the game where you find pictures in clouds. I do remember always playing that game. I’d sit and look up at the sky and find the faces in the clouds, but I had never equated it to my style until she mentioned it. It’s fun. What I’m doing is spilling paint and letting it dry. You see these beautiful colors that evoke certain emotions and feelings and you just stare at it. You turn the pages around, and even that part is mesmerizing. It could stop right there and be an experiment in a color wash. But it’s like ohhh, I see you in there, and I go in there with a tiny pen and uncover these things. It’s fun.
I’ve always liked it. It stems back from my mom, who is an artist as well. One of the ways that she used to keep my brothers and I tamed when we were in public. We grew up in an era before tablets and things like that, so we had action figures and books and shit like that, but the most successful way of keeping us tame and engaged at the same time was what she called the scribble game. She learned it from a book called Drawing From The Right Side Of The Brain. Which is a book we studied a bit in school, talking about hemispheric creativity. She’d always have a sketchbook and pencils and pens. I remember this from being a little kid. If we were trying to beat each other up, and she’d draw a scribble and say make something out of that. And we thought it was cool because you get to make something out of nothing. We’d do that for years and years and years. So I think that definitely has something to do with my style. It must.
1x: Compared with some of your other pieces what is unique about this piece?
Boyd: I alluded to it a bit before in that I was a little less precious, leaving some my pencil sketches in tact. This picture to me is a beautiful mess. Not terribly dissimilar from the person that I painted. Those types of people are fun to capture. Someone who is either deeply thoughtful and a bit of a whirlwind, and this person in particular is a bit of a whirlwind. So I think some of that came through. She’s literally emerging from a whirlwind.
This Way Comes by Brandon Boyd
For The 1xRUN Flint Water Crisis Print Suite – Click To Purchase
Donate To The Michigan ACLU here + Donate To The Flint Child Health & Development Fund of the Foundation of Flint here.
1x: With this release we’ll have a portion of the proceeds going to help those affected by the Flint Water Crisis here in Michigan, and with your “Water Is Life” release late last year you helped raise awareness for what was happening at Standing Rock. As an artist do you feel that you want to help use your reach to help get the word out about these things? What as your reaction when you heard about what had happened in Flint?
Boyd: It’s such a weird thing. There’s a part of me that…I don’t know what the feeling is to describe it, but there’s a bit of frustration, a touch of anger in it, in that any of us have to fight for something like access to clean water. Anywhere in the world, let alone in the world’s wealthiest country, where we have technologies that are about to put us on Mars and we can’t seem to find out how to get safe drinking water to all our communities. As it turns out what has happened in Flint is happening all over the country, some with even worse levels. I remember hearing about it and being angry because I wasn’t surprised. I started to get kind of freaked out and angry. There was this desensitization that was taking place. We need to be shocked by these things. If little old me in my weird corner of the world can help to continue to bring awareness to these things then I feel like it’s my responsibility. Even if I get 10 people to pay attention to it. I hope and pray for a day when access to clean water would be something that we don’t have to fight for. But it goes so much deeper than that. I’m the type of person that thinks you shouldn’t have to pay for access to water, I’m a little more socialist in that respect. Water is like air.
1x: Yea, here in Michigan we’re surrounded by fresh water but it still happens.
Boyd: It seemed like Flint was sort of a flashpoint for this. Being someone that’s wired optimistically I like to thing that maybe this could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s been too long already and that’s why were doing this and putting our foot down on the gas pedal again. But I think most people feel the way I do about it, and that’s the crazy thing, to have these elected officials that don’t have much of a consciousness about things like this. So hopefully that changes.
1x: As you’ve been on tour have you noticed the general temperament of people changing?
Boyd: It’s hard to tell at a concert, it’s definitely an energetic flashpoint, to use that term again, but it’s hard to get a feeling sometimes depending where you are. But I will say that we have a song called “Megalomanic” that was a bit of a protest song when it came out and I’ve never heard the audience sing that song louder than they have right now. If that’s any indication. It’s tougher measuring it from a rock and roll band’s perspective, but I like to think that there are going to be enough people that have been angered, frustrated and frightened into civic engagement, so ideally we’ll see a whole new wave of activism take place around the next election season. I hope.
Brandon Boyd was interviewed in Detroit, Michigan by 1xRUN Editor-In-Chief Pietro Truba. He has previously interviewed Niagara, Leni & John Sinclair, Ricky Powell, Doze Green, Fred Armisen, Janette Beckman and Shepard Fairey among others for 1xRUN. Follow him @pietrotruba