New Pop Art: Nashville Painter Brian Wooden
There’s an unmistakable irreverence to visual artist Brian Wooden’s work. Michelangelo’s “David” is graffitied over; a pink, disembodied hand gives a middle-finger salute. An image from Wooden’s Instagram account declares: “Craft is following the rules. Art is breaking them.” It’s a mantra that resounds on high volume throughout his artwork.
Deeply influenced by pop and street art, Wooden, a Nashville resident, merges punk spirit with clean, cartoonish lines and cotton-candy colors in paintings that have a sense of humor about their own macabre nature. Wooden came to art through a childhood love of drawing that led him to a degree in at Savannah College of Art and Design. Now in Nashville for five years, the twenty-eight-year-old says he says he strives to create work that draws a viewer in for closer inspection.
Below, we talk to Wooden about his artistic process and the balance of playfulness and horror found in his work.
Can you describe your evolution as an artist—from when you started to the work you’re creating now?
I’ve been drawing ever since I can remember, so there has been a lot of change from the beginning to now. The biggest difference is that I take it more seriously now. I still love it and have fun with it, but I treat it more like a job now than I ever have.
What are some challenges you’ve faced as an artist?
The biggest challenge I face is very much the same as anyone else: progression. Most people want to continue to grow and move forward in whatever it is that they do. But art is so subjective that it can sometimes seem impossible. Sometimes I will spend countless hours on a piece and scrutinize everything about it: the design, the composition, rendering, cleaning up line work, only to be thoroughly unsatisfied in the end.
Where does a new piece usually begin for you?
There is no formula for beginning a new piece. Sometimes I’ll see a wall that inspires me; other times I might be listening to a podcast and be struck by an idea or concept. Once I have an idea, I might start sketching on paper immediately, or I might start looking for reference online that helps me get to where I’m trying to go.
You’re also a street artist. Does work you place outside differ in any way from the work you do on canvas?
One is legal, the other is not.
What songs or bands would be on a soundtrack to accompany your visual work?
Anything by Massive Attack.
There often seems to be a balance of playfulness and horror in your visual work, like dismembered pink bodies and skulls placed over a sweet floral background. What inspires that juxtaposition?
I think you worded it very nicely in the question itself: balancing playfulness and horror. I like my work to be visually appealing at first, but to also offer something else to the viewer upon inspection. Kind of like slipping a dirty joke into a kid’s movie, but maybe not that subtle.
What brought you to Nashville, and what keeps you there?
I came to Nashville for the music. I stayed here because the city has so much room to grow. I like being a part of that growth.
All images courtesy of Brian Wooden.