Brandon Donahue

Interview

with Joe Brommel, June 2019

How do you think about the histories of everyday objects? You talk a lot about that on your site as sort of a guiding thread of your practice.

For me, when making my work, it's really important for me to consider the history of the object: how the object lives beyond my involvement of it or my making it into "art". With the basketballs that I collect, it's important to know if they're brand new or not — if they are used where they came from, who touched them? The objects are memorials.

This is maybe a bit of an unnecessarily clever question, but what, for you, is the difference between representation and “re-presenting” those objects? Because that's something you also say in your site: that you like to “re-present” these objects.

The basketballs exist as a functional object, but once I reassemble or disassemble it, I'm re-presenting it as a new object that does not bounce, that does not function within the sport itself. I think it's important to have people look at something as a new thing, as a new possibility.

What do you hope that new possibility does for the viewer?

I hope this new possibility gives the viewer some sort of escape for the moment.

What do you want to re-emphasize in the basketballs in particular?

Material, form, I'm also a painter, so I look at the basketball blooms as paintings. The surface is readymade — therefore, the painting’s already done.

I guess I’d never thought of a basketball as having anything but a default “basketball color.”

I know, somewhere in that process of them being assembled or made in the assembly line, they've been painted. That's important. That's a process that I want to re-emphasize and bring out.

What draws you to basketball in particular, as an object?

I grew up like most kids playing basketball, living in that culture of wanting to go to the NBA. I looked at the sport as an outlet, a tool to climb out of the circumstances that I was in and support my family.

I can reflect on that and see the common thread with other young people. Now, I look at basketball more as a contact zone, a social space where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other.

I want to ask specifically about what you're working on in Wassaic. Can you tell me about the project you and Jessica Gatlin are working on?

So we have this idea called Tithes and Offerings — T.A.O. — where Jessica's practice and my practice meet through customization, through fashion, through mass production. We wanted to use Wassaic as the time to work on our own personal practices, but also to come up with logos and things to start something out.

How are you approaching that project individually?

I’m relying on my airbrushing experience to guide my process through screenprinting. I want to experiment with screen filler in the airbrush gun to use on the screens. Airbrushing is very quick, but it's kind of a low art, fast food version of art, in a sense. So I'm interested in merging that with this idea of high art.

How do you think about the relationship between low and high art? Because I think you're right: people’s image of airbrushing is that it’s something that's somehow lower. How do you explore that perception in your work?

I think about this a lot! In my Rest in Paradise series, I combine t-shirts and canvases together by sewing. Literally merging those two together — overlapping the airbrush onto a canvas and t-shirt within a singular stroke, in a sense. Growing up, I saw airbrushing in the malls or at carnivals — always out of context of what you think fine art is.

Your practice consists of both works that hang in traditional white wall gallery spaces and of street art. How do you negotiate the difference between those two spaces for art?

The two processes are usually separate until I find the right time to merge them. Graffiti culture highly influenced my work in starting in the late 90s and up into the 2000s. I sought out a high percentage of my painting experience and mentorship from older graffiti writers. Although I was an airbrush artist by trade, the two practices of graffiti and airbrushing were very relative.

I made connections between the gallery space and the public space while in undergrad. I found that art in sanctioned and unsanctioned spaces can be connected. So I try to use the gallery as a space of contrast for my work. The gallery often provides better acoustics for my street artwork to speak.

What do you think about, I don't know if it's even a recent shift, but the shift towards —

Murals or something?

Not necessarily murals, but towards accepting graffiti and street art as art? Because I think, in the past, it was always demonized. And now it's become cool. In a way that's great, in saying it's okay to make art wherever you want to, but in another way it feels like it's just sanctioning that art.

I agree. I think it comes with the culture of the generation. The 1970 to 80s pioneers of graffiti and street art had completely different intentions with the artform. Generations Y and Z are now the working class/consumers/young professionals with buying power. It could be a more acceptable art form now as a result of collective taste. Government and neighborhood associations employ street artists and muralists to increase the value of spaces. The property value literally increases! This process of power shift is really interesting to be a part of.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Interview Two

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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Brandon Donahue

About the Artist

Two processes dominate my studio practice: airbrushing and repurposing artifacts. I believe that even the most mundane objects possess a spirit and a history. My interest in this history compels me to re-contextualize everyday objects through customization and assemblage. I intentionally complicate assigned meanings to mobilize the spirit therein.

Sports and memorials are prevalent in my work. I search for and collect objects representing these subjects. I then employ techniques such as sewing, vacuum forming, sole swapping, deconstructing, reconstructing, and composing forms to suggest new possible narratives.

Airbrushing dates back to my earliest art-making. As a teen, I picked it up as a way to enhance my skills. Through commissions, I worked directly with customers and their ideas in t-shirt shops, homes, at athletic events, and festivals. This way of working positioned me as a medium between someone’s idea and the resulting realization. Often these commissions memorialized or commemorated a loved one, again positioning me as a medium between the living and the deceased. These early bridgings made me realize that, as an artist, I could assert new meaning into the ordinary through customization.

I introduce to the viewer new artifacts, challenging them to see not only what is present, but also what is re-presented.

brandonjaquezdonahue.com/home.html

Featured in:

2019 Summer Residency

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