Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Interview with The Night Gallery's Robert Brown

The Night Gallery - Photo by Suzy Bellew

Tucked away in the burgeoning Artist’s Village in Santa Ana, California The Night Gallery is a must-stop shop for dark art in Orange County.

The Night Gallery specializes in the dark, the macabre and the controversial. It has a decadently dark aesthetic that I fell in love with the first time I waltzed through its doors. When I stepped through its threshold, I felt like I had come home.

Works of art by Voltaire, Gris Grimly, Kristopher Sapp, Eric Pigors, R.H. Phister and many more graced the walls while custom made couches and a coffin coffee table offered respite and a chance to let all the gallery’s offerings soak in. One armoire held beautiful works of ceramic art while another displayed unique jewelry. Works of metal art, including frames, dioramas and intricate custom pieces were tastefully arrayed. I tell you, it was love at first bite, errr, sight!

After being so enthralled, I knew I had to meet the gallery owner, who happened to be the very friendly and informed Robert Brown. Besides owning a wonderful gallery and showcasing some truly show-stopping works of art, Robert is also an artist. All of the pristine ceramic art and most of the intricate metal art I had seen was made by Robert! Being so impressed with his gallery and artwork, I just knew I had to pick Robert’s brain, especially since The Night Gallery is right in my backyard! Careful, Robert, I may just move in!

Fatally Yours: When did you become interested in art?

Robert Brown: I have always been interested in art. I started by drawing pictures of cars and monsters when I was really little. I also tried to duplicate the sets of my favorite horror movies such as Frankenstein’s lab as a child.

I was busy drawing and painting all through my school years and took any art classes that were offered.

Fatally Yours: Do you have formal schooling or are you self-taught?

Robert Brown: My major is in art, and have taken a variety of studio art classes ranging from mixed media to ceramics. My interest in metal work and welding came during the time I worked in my brother’s auto body shop.

Fatally Yours: What draws you to the darker aesthetic? 

Robert Brown: It goes back to my childhood and love of Halloween. My friends and I used to go all out for Halloween as kids. We would create our own mask and facial prosthetics to try to really scare people. I would also spend a lot of time watching old horror and sci-fi movies.

Robert Brown

Fatally Yours: Orange County isn’t necessarily known for its dark art scene. What drew you to open a gallery here? 

Robert Brown: I found out through a friend that there was an Art Walk in Santa Ana. At that point in time, I was completely unaware of any art scene in Orange County other than Laguna, which was not my cup of tea at all.

While at the Santa Ana Art Walk my wife and I saw a sign for new lofts that would soon go up for sale. We put our name on the waiting list and reserved a spot. About a year later we were moving in and setting up the gallery. We wanted something different, and Santa Ana offered that with its emerging and experimental artist’s culture. Santa Ana’s Artists Village has been very welcoming to our gallery and the work we display.

Fatally Yours: Have you ever had visitors to your gallery be shocked at the content displayed? Any fainters or people that ran screaming into the night?

Robert Brown: Funny you should ask…I try to watch the expressions of customers as they come through the door. We have had a few customers who come in and many times walk right back out with very distraught looks on their faces. Some people even appear to be angry? But for me, that is what makes it all worthwhile. If an art piece gets some sort of reaction out of people, the artist has done his job. Art should evoke some sort of emotion whether positive or negative.

Fatally Yours: Tell us about the wonderful artists you have featured in your gallery.

Robert Brown: Some of our regularly featured artists are Rochelle Phister, Krys Sapp, Eric Pigors (AKA Toxictoons), and many others. Rochelle is an amazing artist who works with oils. Her pieces almost seem translucent, and her skill is just over the top. Krys Sapp makes amazing mixed media pieces that really get great reactions out of people. Eric Pigors creates some very clever monster cartoon art that has been seen all over.

Fatally Yours: You yourself are an accomplished artist. What drew you to the ceramic arts? 

Robert Brown: My love for ceramics came during my collage days. I also like three-dimensional work, and I love the pliability of clay. I also discovered the Raku glaze/firing technique during this time. Raku is a very unpredictable technique. You never know what colors you will get until the piece is finished. That is what I love about it.

Outdoor art sculpture by Robert Brown

Fatally Yours: You are also an amazing metal sculptor. What drew you to that medium?

Robert Brown: Metal is very different than ceramic in that it is a very forgiving material. It is also more predictable that clay, and I love being able to create large pieces.

Fatally Yours: Which art form is more challenging to you, ceramics or metal?

Robert Brown: The two are so different.  Metal would be the most challenging for me because there is still so much more I need to learn about welding and building techniques.

Fatally Yours: Do you have a process you go through when creating art or is it more free form?

Robert Brown: Sometimes I have a clearly outlined plan that I follow, but I would say for the most part that the medium can really determine the outcome of a particular piece.

I am very right-brained. I really hate measuring and finding correct angles so much that many times I avoid it. I have to see the problem I am trying to solve in front of me in order to find the correct angle or measurement. In other words I struggle with math and geometry, which I feel, is not necessarily a bad thing. It is this bizarre handicap that I have to work around, but many times I find some really cool solutions that contribute to a piece.

Fatally Yours: How long does it typically take you to create your Raku ceramics? What about your metal sculptures? 

Robert Brown: Other than drying time, ceramics came be a fairly fast-paced medium. A small piece can take maybe an hour to create, but 3-4 weeks in drying time.

Metal is much more instantaneous. It all depends on the size and complexity of the piece.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite pieces of art you’ve created?

Robert Brown: I have a few that pieces that were kind of breakthrough pieces for me.

First I would say, a seven-foot high metal grandfather clock I made about four years ago.

The second would be a piece entitled “Saint Vigilo”. It was a themed piece I had for a show at The Congregation of the Forgotten Saints. It is a large metal shadow box. There are a number of complex curves and angles that I had to work through to finish it.

The third piece would be my most recent piece I made for Rado watches of Switzerland. It is a large metal and velvet sculpture that also had a series of unconventional problems that I had to overcome.

I have discovered that art involves a lot of problem solving. This type of thinking is what hones an artist.

Robert Brown's Santa Alquimia (St. Alchemy)

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite pieces of art from other artists?

Robert Brown: Krys Sapp had a shadow box piece of the Virgin Mary that I will always remember. He used lots of velvet and found objects together to create this otherly world motif.

Jeremy Cross has had a number of controversial religious themed works that I have really enjoyed too.

Fatally Yours: What inspires and influences both your artistic work as well as the overall aesthetic of your gallery?

Robert Brown: People have asked my before, “What is your muse?” but I really can’t give them a firm answer. Design, style and line are what drive me. Again, it is being there in the midst of working with the material that influences the piece. Getting into the artistic “zone” and just allowing that to work from within you, this is what inspires me. I will be out working in my studio, loosing track of time, forgetting to eat, when my wife has to reel me back in to reality.

My wife, Tamera, is the one who really put the gallery together. She has an amazing eye for interior design.

Fatally Yours: If you could perfect any other artistic medium what would it be and why?

Robert Brown: Stone, I suppose. I like the permanence of rock.

Fatally Yours: What other dark art galleries do you like to frequent?

Robert Brown: Congregation of the Forgotten Saints in Hollywood, Dark Delicacies [Burbank], La Luz de Jesus [Hollywood], and I have yet to go to Hyaena [Burbank] because our openings are usually on the same night.

Fatally Yours: Who are your current favorite artists?

Robert Brown: I have always liked the artists of the Dada movement. I like how they took common objects and incorporated them into making political and social statements in their work. The whole Art Deco movement has also influenced my work. So to answer your questions more directly, I would say some of my favorite arts are Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, George Grosz, Paul Soldner, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Robert Brown's The Nephilim

Fatally Yours: You currently have artwork from noteworthy artists such as Voltaire and Gris Grimly in your gallery, among others. How did you obtain their works?

Robert Brown: Krys Sapp has been a good friend and excellent connection for meeting  artists. He is the one who introduced me Voltaire, and Gris Grimly, as well as many of the artists in the gallery. We are Gris Grimly’s Orange County retailer for his originals and prints.

Fatally Yours: What kind of art and/or aesthetic are you looking for to display at The Night Gallery? Do you have any rules or guidelines you follow when scrutinizing art that an artist would like to show in your gallery?

Robert Brown: Artwork doesn’t necessarily have to be “dark” in order to be displayed at Night Gallery. Sometimes work will be chosen because it is controversial. The work must not only be outside the norm but must show artistic proficiency.

Fatally Yours: Do you or your gallery have any shows/events coming up?

Robert Brown: The next show will be Saturday, February 6th from 7:00-10:00pm which coincides with the Santa Ana Art Walk. We have a big event being planned for the spring of 2010. Cam Rakam and I are working together on this art show and concert. Details can be found in January on the Night Gallery website.

Fatally Yours: When you aren’t creating art or running The Night Gallery, what do you like to do?

Robert Brown: I am kind of a car guy. That is where I first began welding, and I have a couple of antique cars.

I also like just hanging out in Downtown Santa Ana.

Fatally Yours: I would be remiss if I didn’t ask, so what are your favorite horror films and books? 

Robert Brown: Some of my favorite horror movies are Cabinet of Doctor Caligari, Nosferatu, Vampir, Night of the Living Dead, Carnival of Souls, Dawn of the Dead, and 28 Days Later. My favorites are the early silent films, but I still love a good zombie film too.

As far as books, the typical Poe books, Paradise Lost, and the Iliad.

Fatally Yours: Thank you so much for the opportunity to interview you, Robert! You have a truly unique gallery and I wish you all the best!

Visit The Night Gallery’s Official Site!

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