Tim Hans shoots… Brian Adam Douglas

Photo by Tim Hans

Brian Adam Douglas aka Elbowtoe is one of New York’s best-loved street artists, but he also has also developed a healthy and equally well-regarded studio practice. This week, Douglas’ largest and most significant solo show yet opens at Andrew Edlin Gallery in New York City. “How to Disappear Completely” will feature drawings as well as Douglas’ famous cut paper paintings/collages. I’ve been eagerly awaiting this show for at least a year, and now it’s almost upon us. The show opens on Thursday evening (6-8pm) and runs through October 26th.

Earlier this summer, Tim Hans met up to Douglas at his studio for the latest in our continuing series of photo-portraits of artists by Tim, and I asked him a few questions over email.

"The Last Jackalope And Other Fables Of The Reconstruction" by Brian Adam Douglas. Photo courtesy of Brian Adam Douglas.
“The Last Jackalope And Other Fables Of The Reconstruction” by Brian Adam Douglas. Photo courtesy of Brian Adam Douglas.

RJ: What can you tell us about your upcoming solo show?

Douglas: This show, at least for me, has been grappling with the end of things.

My close circle of family has been through quite a series of challenges over the past 2 1/2 years, and these struggles have had a profound effect on my psyche. My show is a series of events of great calamity, more often than not after the fact. The protagonist most often rises to the occasion and grapples with the changed environment, though there are occasions that they stand in awe of the devastation before them. The images are on first glance an illustration of destruction, but in actuality are metaphors of redemption.

Though the initial seeds for the images came quite quickly, I have been working out the compositions slowly over time, letting elements slide in and out of focus.

A majority of the work is made of paper, though there is a series of drawings that compliment the cut paper works. I took it as a challenge to make drawings that in their starkness could hold their own against the complexity of the cut paper.

Photo by Tim Hans

RJ: What goes into making one of your paper paintings? Can you go through the process from beginning to end? How long did the pieces in this show take you to make?

Douglas: For most of the works in my current show, I developed the ideas while taking long walks. My goal is to be a vessel for my imagination, so I am very open to whatever my mind throws at me. Once I get a set of ideas, I begin to research what the significance of the signs, gestures and relationships might offer. This often leads to troves of new information that in turn yields more imagery. My goal when coming up with the images, is to step as far back from the process as I can and literally take notes at what my imagination throws at me. When I have the inklings of an image, I run through a number of studies, and once I find the composition that works best for the image, I get to work on the final drawing.

These drawings can take days, and sometimes weeks to execute depending on the level of complexity. Many of the structures I have in the show are built using old fashioned perspective techniques. The more complex the structures, the longer the study takes. I have one piece with several shipwrecked frigates that I built each with their own vanishing points. They become like scale models. After the drawing is complete, I make a very detailed color study, to establish the proper relationships in terms of light effects and atmospheric effects as well as color and value.

A huge influence on my process is an unfinished painting by Dürer at the Met. In it one is able to really see him working things out. I took his process of the very detailed under drawing from that work in progress. Once I transfer my drawing onto the panel, I comb through my vast collection of paper in search of paper that will build off the color study and other reference that I have gathered. If there are colors that I am unable to find I will make the colors. This is particularly the case in areas of large solid color.

I then attack the image like I would a painting. There is not a set method to the application of the paper. It is a very organic response to the studies as well as all the reference I have gathered. I will say that my “brush marks” are as closely aligned with drawing as they are with paint. I think that the two are inseparable.

When I varnish the pieces, I tend to rub the varnish in, like I am polishing a table. I find this part of the process to be the most stressful. I use a rag to apply the varnish, and I build it up in several thin layers. The difficulty arises from the texture of the built up paper. The surface creates ledges and crevices that the varnish can build up on/in.

The smaller pieces in the show take somewhere in the ballpark of 2 months to execute. The largest pieces took almost half a year in execution, but almost a year for all the elements to accumulate and ferment into the appropriate image.

"The Center Cannot Hold" by Brian Adam Douglas. Photo by Brian Adam Douglas.
“The Center Cannot Hold” by Brian Adam Douglas. Photo courtesy of Brian Adam Douglas.

RJ: You seem like you are always one of the busiest people I know and you spend a lot of time in your studio. What drives you to work so hard?

Douglas: There was a period of time in my life that art was the only stable place I could be. During that time I forged a deep love of the solace of the studio. Since then I have never really been able to shake it. My wife has always been very driven by her arts as well. I think her passion encourages me to work even harder myself. But probably the greatest driving force of my time in studio is that I am always trying to raise the bar on myself with everything I take on, and that just means more work.

RJ: How do you see street art fitting into your practice these days?

Douglas: Sadly I don’t have much wiggle room for street art these days. It has certainly not been for a lack of desire. I have a stack of prints in my studio that we printed this summer, that I have just been waiting to get out. Honestly with any spare time I have I want to spend as much as I can with my twin boys.

RJ: Has having kids changed your art?

Douglas: I don’t know if it has, at least in terms of subject matter. I know it has meant less time in the studio than I used to take. I used them in a street piece. And I made the decision that any time I do any work with them I will make it as off-kilter as possible, find the troubling or unsettled moments. I hate sentimental art, and any time one uses children in art, the artist runs the risk of sentimentality. Having children has certainly made me take a hard look at my practice. I don’t want to waste any time making art that is not worthy of the time I take away from spending with them.

Photo by Tim Hans

Photos courtesy of Brian Adam Douglas and by Tim Hans

Weekend link-o-rama

“Gemini” by Elbowtoe

I’ve just spent the last two weeks in London and it’s been great to catch up on everything that’s been going on here (even if it’s mostly that art is being replaced by billboards). Here’s what I’ve been checking out online this week:

Photo by Elbowtoe

Weekend link-o-rama


Back to school on Tuesday. Actually, I’m okay with that. And of course, it means more time blogging because it means more time procrastinating. Here’s some of what we missed this week while Caroline and I were on vacation:

Photo by Ankles

Weekend link-o-rama

"A Study In Fecundity" by Elbowtoe

I’m baking alive here in Atlanta for Living Walls, but damn things are coming along nicely. Nanook and Gaia have finished a couple of walls, including this one. But Living Walls is a busy event, so I’ve been missing out on a lot this week, including some big news from Banksy. Check all that out here…

Photo by Elbowtoe

Vandalog and M.A.N.Y. present Up Close and Personal

In two weeks, Vandalog and Murals Around New York (MANY) will be putting on a pop-up show in a New York City apartment. Up Close and Personal mostly came out of two ideas: 1. Street artists tend to work large outdoors and we wanted to challenge people to make art on a small scale and 2. We’ve all seen artwork in galleries that either would only look good in a gallery but not in a home, or is just too big to fit into a typical apartment and we wanted to see something different from that. With Up Close and Personal, the show itself is taking place in an apartment on the Upper West Side, and we have capped the size of the artwork at 30 x 30 inches, with an emphasis on going as small as possible.

I’ve worked with Keith Schweitzer and Mike Glatzer of M.A.N.Y. to curate this show, and we’re really excited with the line up that we’ve managed to put together: Aiko, Chris Stain, Clown Soldier, Don Leicht, Edible Genius, Elbowtoe, Gaia, How & Nosm, Jessica Angel, John Fekner, Know Hope, Logan Hicks, Mike Ballard, OverUnder, R. Robot, Radical, Retna, Skewville, Tristan Eaton, Troy Lovegates aka Other and White Cocoa.

Up Close and Personal opens May 12th from 7-9pm. We’ll also be open from 7-9pm on the 13th. Then noon-9pm and noon-7pm on the 14th and 15th respectively. Particularly on the 12th, it is possible that we’ll be shifting people in every half hour or so, since the space is a small apartment. The show is taking place at 217 West 106th Street, Apartment 1A, New York, NY 10025 – Between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenues.

Hope to see you in a couple weeks!

Chris Stain

Elbow Toe in London

Photo by HowAboutNo!

Elbow Toe aka Brian Adam Douglas is/was in London this week for the launch of his new book, Paper Cuts, and the opening of his show Due Date at Black Rat Projects. While in town, Elbow Toe put up a few street peices. Most of Due Date was recently at the Warrington Museum (photos here), but there is one major addition the version now on at Black Rat: A massive 5×7 foot collage called The Memory Of You Is Never Lost Upon Me.

The Memory Of You Is Never Lost Upon Me (click to view large). Photo by Elbow Toe

Due Date is open at Black Rat Projects now, but I’m not sure when it closes.

Here’s Elbow Toe’s latest image for the street, which looks like it is up along the canal in Hackney:

This Too Shall Pass. Photo by Hookedblog

Photos by HowAboutNo!, Elbow Toe and Hookedblog


Next week: Solo show and book from Elbow Toe

We Get Along Like A House On Fire by Brian Adam Douglas

Next week is going to be a big one for Brian Adam Douglas, aka Elbow Toe and his UK fans. Due Dates, his solo show at the Warrington Museum in the UK, will be moving to Black Rat Projects. Due Date opens next Thursday evening, March 10th. If you already saw Due Date at the Warrington, it will still be worth checking it out again at Black Rat Press, as the show will include one very special collage that has not been seen before. Additionally, the relaunch of Due Date at BRP will double as the launch for his first book, Paper Cuts.

Photo courtesy of Elbow Toe

Elbow Toe Preview at Warrington Museum

After Goya

On December 4, the Warrington Museum in Chesire will host Elbow-Toe’s first solo show in the UK, entitled Due Date. A breath of fresh air in the art world, the New York based artist has been gaining attention with his colorful and witty “paper paintings” as the artist calls them. These pictures don’t even do them justice; Elbow-toe’s work really needs to be seen in person to fully comprehend the labor and creativity in his methods. This particular show is not just Elbow-toe’s paintings, but also works on paper. Both act as strong contrasts to one other and should play off each other well in the final set-up.

The show’s theme is based around the concept of parenthood and the ideas and preconceived notions that comes with it in today’s world. The works act as stories that stem from the artist’s own life experiences as well as what he believes others think of being a parent.

In a statement by the artist he states that “In these paintings I am addressing fears (loss of individuation as well as of the proverbial unknown), the strengthening of bonds in times of crisis, the issues of trying to become a parent later in life and the wisdom gained through the process of parenting.”

Sweet Dreams

For more information on the show visit Elbow-toe’s website and his flickr to see more images from the upcoming show.

All photos courtesy of Elbow-toe

VNA13 – Eine, Steve Powers, Dan Witz and a girl with her shirt off

I’ve got a drawer full of books and magazines to read and review right now, but Very Nearly Almost number 13 jumped to the front of the queue this weekend when I took a bus to and from Washington, DC. Why? Because it’s light and small and fits in my backpack way better than Trespass.

Regular Vandalog readers will know that I’m a fan of Very Nearly Almost, and issue 13 is no exception. Interviews with Elbow-toe, Dan Witz and Miso are great because I think they (particularly Miso) are overlooked talents. And then there’s Steve Powers who never responded to Vandalog’s recent interview request (kind of expected that to be honest). There’s even an essay by Dave The Chimp, who never ceases to entertain me, about the need to experience art in real life (as in not on blogs or in magazines). Oh and on page 74 there’s a photo of a topless girl.

Sorry if I’m sounding a bit glib. I really just want to write this post and get to sleep. Just got my flu shot and the symptoms are kicking in a bit. In all seriousness though, VNA is probably my favorite magazine and art lover should pick up a copy of their latest issue. You can get it online for £4.