I sat down with Brian Willmont in his studio in Greenpoint last week and we chatted about life and art over donuts and tea. He had the chocolate coconut and I went for the red velvet….
Where are you living? You still in Bed Sty?
Clinton Hill now. I live in a house that friends have had going for 7 or 8 years. I’ve always crashed there and thought of it as an ideal place, so I lucked out to be able to move in.
When did you move to NYC?
4 and a half years ago.
You came from New Mexico, right?
Santa Fe, yeah, I was there for a year and a half. Boston before that.
What were you doing there? Did you need to get away from it all?
I just wanted to get out and figure out my studio practice on my own before coming to a place where all my friends seemed to work to drink for the most part…
Work to drink?
Yeah they weren’t getting anything done….just working a job really hard and getting really tired and then spending their money at the bar. I just wanted to go somewhere quiet to get my work done. And I was definitely chasing boyhood fantasies and dreams about the Southwest. My grandmother is from New Mexico and was the only grandparent I was close with so I grew up with her stories of witches and Cyclops abducting cousins…mountain demons and weird shit like that.
What?? Wait tell me about the Cyclops abduction.
My cousin, who lives like way out in rural New Mexico where there is absolutely nothing, was apparently abducted by a giant Cyclops and taken back to the his lair, tied to a stake and was being prepared to be eaten.
And someone actually witnessed this?
Another family member rescued him but my grandmother told me the story…..with a straight face. When I lived in New Mexico I was regularly warned about witches. If I was talking to someone about going on a little daytrip some place, they would often say, “Oh that sounds really beautiful and fantastic… just don’t stop for anyone along the way at all! Even if it is a beautiful woman, Do not stop for her! She is probably a witch.”
Did you personally have any strange encounters out there?
I saw some weird stuff. There were these shadows that moved around in my studio, they would just be really fast and kind of dart around the space. One night me and my ex were driving our roommates to meet a friend out in the middle of nowhere at this intersection and while I was driving I saw something running next to us. We were driving like 50 miles an hour and there was this big, white, wooly thing running next to us. And we all saw it. It was running parallel to our car and then it just went up this hill.
There are all of these stories about these, I guess they’re witches, they are called Skinwalkers, and they can take the shape of different kinds of animals. There have actually been a lot of sightings of them running alongside cars.
So did that inspire your film, Skinwalker?
Yeah. I knew I was moving to New York so I wanted to take advantage of the space I had out there. I borrowed a warehouse from this art collective called Meow Wolf and I built a 26 foot cardboard World War 2 fighter plane and invited a bunch of friends to come shoot with me. I made a bunch of costumes and thought of some fun places to go shoot.
We camped out for 10 days and we just hung out and shot it all then. It was definitely inspired by the openness to strange and mystical ideas out there. It makes you believe, there is so much nothingness out there and its already such a magical place that you start to think, “Well, why not? Who says there isn’t some guy who turned into a half-beast and is running alongside my car?” It’s a place that really draws creative people and broken people, people who need healing and sometimes want to provide that healing too.
I look around your studio and see lots of sculptures of rifles, rocks, cowboy hats and boots. There are still remnants of the wild desert New Mexico vibe in your work. How do you think living there affected your art?
Well, for one, there was just so much space so I was able to do my work unencumbered. I didn’t know many people, I just lived with my girlfriend at the time and another couple. The boys shared a studio and the girls shared a studio. Haha. To mix things up a little bit. We were all doing work and had our little social network. When I lived in Boston, I was dealing with a lot of ideas that had to do with my family and personal histories, not in an obvious way but that was definitely a springboard for my work then. Being in New Mexico, my work got more layered and hyper visual because it was so under-stimulating there in a certain regard, in a way that I wasn’t used to, so I was making the work a little crazier.
How did you feel when you moved to NY?
I felt so overwhelmed. I had a job driving trucks and doing art handling and in just a couple blocks in Midtown I would see more people than I would see in a week in New Mexico.
All of a sudden instead of being able to see for miles and see the mountains all around you, you couldn’t see more than down the canyon of the city’s corridors.
When did you feel the environment of NY started to affect your art?
That took kind of awhile. The first year I was still making very Southwestern inspired work. But then NY started slowly seeping in. The imagery was getting more minimal I think because I was just so overwhelmed. I needed to make quieter, more meditative works. Things I could just sort of sit there and stare at, kind of slump over like a drunk staring into it.
So, now you are all set up in NY with a sweet studio. What’s your working routine like these days?
I come in as soon as I can everyday I can. I have a late schedule so I come in at noon. I usually have a lot of things going at once. Things require drying time so I’ll put it aside and move on. I listen to music, like Townes Van Zandt, Abner Jay, weird electronic music that Cody Defranco gave me from the 70s, that dude from Tangerine Dream.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
My friend’s dad took us to a free show outdoors, They Might Be Giants…. and I think Ministry maybe?
Really? Whoah what a combo.
Hmmm, yeah maybe it wasn’t Ministry. Haha. It was something really weird like that.
The first show I went to on my own was at the Rathskeller in Boston.
Oh yeah THE RAT. Infamous. The Queers sang about goin to the Rat,
Yeah totally. Iconic. I saw Dropkick Murphy’s, Duckie Boys, the Swinging Utters, and the US Bombs in 1996.
Nice. Duane Peters’ band, Hey what do you like to snack on in the studio? I always like to have snacks around when I’m working…
Haha yeah, I like to have chips but I gotta drink em from the bag because otherwise you get your hands all greasy. I like the Kettle Jalapeno or Thai-spiced ones. I got some salami over here.
Are you a breakfast dude?
I love breakfast, I eat it everyday. It doesn’t matter how late I go till my first meal, breakfast will be number one. I pretty much will always eat 3 meals a day even if it is in a 6 hour period.
Noo, tea. I stopped drinking coffee, started to fuck me up pretty good. I love it though.
Car or bike?
I ride my bike pretty much everyday. I have a handmade Panasonic track bike from Japan.
You know I think the first time I met you was through APENEST. How did that get started?
Cody Hoyt and I were in school together. We were printmakers and had a little art collective called Drawing Club where we would make collaborative drawings once a week. We made little artist books too and Cody and I would spend late nights at Kinko’s paying off the midnight shift workers to let us make unlimited copies. It just took off from there, We decided to make something a little more real. First we thought it was gonna be more like an art magazine and find advertisers. Everyone thought it was a cute idea but no one wanted to give us any money. Except for one guy who was willing to pay for the whole project if we gave him a portfolio with a piece from each artist. So that’s how we got that together and it ended up being 2 books, a few exhibitions, and a bunch of prints…
I was really impressed with the quality of the art in those books. Was that the first time you started curating?
Yeah doing that and we put together some art shows in local spots in Boston. I have always liked doing stuff with other artists and have there be a community involved rather than it be such a solo jam. I’ve always been envious of people in bands that get to go on tour and have a gang who motivate each other and get to share their work to people together.
Was that the same type of catalyst that got you started doing Greenpoint Terminal Gallery?
Yeah, I just had space (in my studio). Both projects were built off a solid foundation of naivete, which I think is very important. Haha. Who knows what I wouldn’t have taken on if I’d known how much work it’d be.
How is it running a gallery as an artist?
Its really enlightening with some things. Seeing how difficult artists are to work with and being on the other end of that. Remembering when I thought my difficultness was par for course…
Do you feel like it affects your practice at all?
Makes my time more valuable because I have less of it. When I get in the studio I get straight to it. And I’m working with people that I’m definitely inspired by.
What’s coming up there?
A Matt Leines show, then a show of my own work…which was a strange idea at first but I’m going to do it.
That’s always an interesting feeling – showing yourself. Are you going to tell everyone who walks in that you are the artist or are you going to make up a persona?
I probably won’t build a facetious character.
I used to do that at Cinders, lie about my name.
Really? You’d be like the “gallerist.” “I’m Alfredo Bon Jour.” Haha.
Yeah totally. Or sometimes we had a fake boss named Bruce and when people came in and asked questions I didn’t want to answer, I’d just say, I didn’t know and that I just work here. “My boss Bruce calls the shots but he’s not here.”
So, you are still going to be Brian Willmont?
Yeah haha I’ll be Brian Willmont for the show.
Ok moving on to the real important stuff….
If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
To slow down time. That or teleportation.
What’s your sign?
I’m a Libra, thanks for asking.
Are you currently single?
Why do you stay in NYC? Its such a pain in the ass, right?
I was asking myself that when I was in Joshua Tree last week haha. But I think all the old reasons to be here still stand up. As much as everyone else would like to think that NY is dead, there’s just so much happening here on any given day, so many people doing cool things, its inspiring.
You think you’ll be here for awhile?
I don’t think I’ll leave anytime soon. Its nice out today, the weather is starting to turn and it’ll be spring soon.
Do you get a lot of work done in the winter?
Yeah, well I get to the studio and then I don’t want to leave.
Ok, wrapping things up, what would your last meal be before your execution?
I don’t want your pity meal, fuck you and flip the breaker.
Interview by Sto Len
All Images courtesy of the artist
See Brian Willmont’s available work here
Stay Tuned for more new releases by Brian throughout March!!