Interview with Brian DePauli
Brian DePauli is an artist from St. Louis currently working in Asia. He received an MA from Fontbonne University and has exhibited nationally including shows at The Berkeley Art Center in Berkeley, CA, Around the Coyote in Chicago, IL, and Fort Gondo in St.Louis. In this interview, he goes in depth with the guest juror, Bethanie Irons, about his BBQ Party series and his development as an artist.
BI: What inspired you to first pursue, and then continue to practice, artistic work? Was there a pivotal moment when you felt you were on the right track?
BD: I started out as a business major in college and I took art and music classes to fill my elective credits. I always liked painting and drawing as a kid, but never thought of it as something to pursue. I do remember thinking that being an artist seemed like a cool lifestyle. I never made the connection until you asked the question, but it makes a lot of sense since my subject matter now is all about lifestyle. I had art professors who were encouraging, Ahzad Bogosian in particular, so I took more art classes and started submitting work to exhibitions. As far as, one pivotal moment I don’t think I really had that. My career has been a series of small steps. Now that I have been making art for 15 years I can’t really imagine giving it up.
BI: You have shown your work in a number of different venues, including airports and outdoor spaces. How does space play a role in where you chose to show your work?
BD: Over the past three years I have sought out venues other than traditional gallery spaces or even alternative art spaces to show my work. I do love art galleries and, obviously, they are ideal places to show work, but they can be a bit intimidating for people outside of the art community to visit. Having work in public places, such as an airport, allows people not rooted in the art scene to have access to art in a more relaxed or casual manner. I really am interested in having people from outside of the somewhat closed art community seeing and engaging with my work.
BI: We are both from the Midwest and I think we have unique perspectives on space; the proximity of space that we share with others in the public sphere and the amount of space we occupy in our private environments. Now that you are living in Korea, have your notions of space been challenged?
BD: To begin with, I probably use space differently than most Americans. I own a fairly small house in the USA, about 800 sq. ft., half of which is an art studio. I also have a rather substantial skate ramp that takes up my entire backyard. My house/studio/skatepark back in the states really defines who I am and I have spent the past 11 years cultivating a unique life there. So my personal space and the freedom to do whatever I want in that space is really important to me.
Here in Korea my living space is about the same size, so that has not been much of a transition for me. However, my studio space is now just a desk in the corner. In that regard my personal space has been challenged. I actually think adapting my studio practice to fit my new space will lead to some pretty interesting projects.
With regard to general use of space in Korea and the USA there really is no comparison. Korea is roughly the same size as my home state of Missouri, but has 8 times the population. Even after living here for 5 months it is hard to wrap my head around that difference. There are definitely some similarities between the two cultures, but space is not one of them. Koreans build up and Americans build out, 20 story apartment buildings are as ubiquitous here as suburban homes are back in the states.
BI: Your BBQ Party series presents the viewer with seemingly ordinary spaces with grills in backyards and on patios. However, they build on a narrative considering how humans, across cultures, connect over food. Does this relate at all with your social experiences as an artist?
BD: It definitely does. The first time I exhibited works from the BBQ Party series was 2015—I held the exhibition at a friends photography shop on a popular street in Saint Louis. It was also the first time I used a non-gallery space for an exhibition. In addition to my grill paintings, I brought two actual bbq grills to the shop and set them up on the sidewalk out front. I made a funny apron and a chefs hat to wear and grilled all night, encouraging passersby to come to join the fun, have some food, and look at art. By this time ideas such as leisure, work, relationships and experiences were becoming important to my work and I believe presenting an exhibition in that way embodied those themes.
BI: The BBQ Party series also seems to function, in some ways, as a vanitas still life, showing the transience of life and the vanity of objects. However, instead of prompting us to apologize for taking part in pleasurable activities, you are encouraging us to participate. How does celebration and joy play a role in your philosophy on life and your choice of imagery?
BD: In some ways, I think of my work as social commentary, but I have no desire to be negative or pessimistic. I would rather show how things could be. Honestly, I feel like people work too much, or at least put too much emphasis on career and income. This contributes to several problems in American society; over consumption, environmental degradation, stereotypes about mens work and women’s work, the despising of those who are underemployed or unemployed, and unfair distribution of wealth and labor, to name a few. Instead of advancing their careers, I think people should focus more on advancing their lives. There is mass consensus that experiences are more rewarding and memorable than objects or a paycheck, yet that idea is not always reflected in our culture.
This is how I try to live my life and what I want my work to express. It also plays into how I choose my imagery. Simple things like a bbq grill or a beach scene, and maybe something less PG like the phrase “Fuck Work” are universally recognized as symbolizing a fun and leisurely lifestyle. You are absolutely right, I want to encourage people to embrace that. Our society shames people for spending too much time seeking out fun or interesting pursuits, instead of earning money and acquiring useless objects. I want my work to show a world where the opposite happens and everyone can join the party.
BI: While your work is symbolic, you also demonstrate technical expertise by creating pieces that are highly naturalistic. How did this skill develop and become an important part of your work?
BD: When I started taking art electives in undergrad I was much more expressive with paint. Then after switching to art for graduate school I went in the opposite direction. I took a few technique classes in grad school and got hooked on the challenge of rendering things accurately.
That aesthetic has become engrained in my creative output for a few reasons. As I have mentioned above, it is important for me to appeal to all viewers, not just people in the art scene. Well made paintings are a good way to do that. Even if someone is not interested in the conceptual side of art they will be able to engage with the craft and surface meanings of my work. Additionally, the craft in my work enhances the concept. We live in a mass produced, throw away world. We buy then discard even the most useful things, like food and clothes, without a second thought. Making something that is precious is my way to take a jab at the planned obsolescence created by our ill conceived consumer-capitalist society.
BI: Where do you see your work taking you in the future?
BD: I hope traveling and residencies can become a bigger part of my practice. Up until recently, that has been unrealistic financially, but now I am in a position in my life where it is more of a possibility. Living in Korea is somewhat like a residency, although a self directed one. It has given me the opportunity to learn about art and connect with artists outside of the USA. I have met several artists from around the world here in Korea and that has really inspired me to pursue international opportunities.
In this publication, I focused on one series of paintings, but I am a multi-disciplinary artist. In addition to paintings, I also make sculptures and animations. There are several projects that I have done in the past that I would like to revisit or expand upon. Things like “Giant Swing For All My Friends” at G-CADD or my “Cut A Rug” project from a several years back have a lot of potential, but I have not had the time to develop them into series. So adding that richness to my oeuvre is import to me in the future.
I have been reading a lot more lately about work and the economy. There are some really interesting people and organizations that have unique perspectives on how we can improve society by reducing the number of paid working hours in the industrialized world. Having more fun and working less has been a focus of my life and art for about 10 years now, learning about that concept from a public policy viewpoint is incredibly inspiring. I don’t know were this will lead, but I see it informing my work in the future. I hope to reach out to them and see if their research and my art can merge in some way.