Brianna Smith is a collage artist from New York; Nolan and I found her work on flickr after I recently became obsessed with collages and the unique mood they always seem to produce. The affect of her collages is focused on nostalgia and very familiar images combined with an out-of-place element, creating a feeling that can be whimsical and suddenly become deadly serious. (Very reminiscent of Beth Hoeckel’s work.) When I interviewed her, I set out to learn where the drive for this familiar/unfamiliar dichotomy comes from.
Many of your collages have a dreamy, almost dystopian quality because they combine bright, innocent images, like strawberries and quilts, with darker ones such as skeletons and vast night skies. Where does this inspiration come from?
I am drawn to the natural world and the universe beyond, to spirituality and the metaphysical, identity and culture, hazy daydreams, still quiet nights in August where it’s too sticky and hot to think, lightning storms, nostalgia and visions of the future, the powers of the mind, fragments and forgotten pieces, the feeling in the pit of my stomach, the sun just as it rises, art and truth and most of all cheeseburgers.
Where did you grow up? Do you think your childhood home inspired the mood of your collages, or did you purposely move in a completely different direction?
I grew up in New York. I will always be enchanted and mesmerized by the past, just as I am with the present and the future. It’s hard to say what has not inspired me, our brains are constantly being stimulated and inspired and altered by perception and experience. As humans we are constantly growing and changing, not just physically but spiritually too and I like to think that my collages grow and change with me, and follow me in whichever direction I may go.
When did you first know you wanted a career in the arts? What have been some of the challenges with making a living that way? And what’s the best part about it?
I guess I don’t really place the idea of a career at a high level of importance. I sling coffee to pay bills, but I make art because I feel compelled to and because it is the only way I can order and quiet and release all of the thoughts in my brain. When other people respond to or relate to my art in some way or want to invest in it, I think it’s wonderful and really rewarding, but I will always make art so long as it naturally pours out of me.
What’s your favorite place to find images for your work?
Most of my images come from books or magazines that I have either thrifted, found at one of the countless yard sales in my neighborhood in the summertime, or they have been donated to me. There is this great thrift store I go to where everything is collected at random in these enormous plastic bins that they change out every 20 minutes or so; everything is priced per pound and I have found so many forgotten treasures there. A great used bookstore opened up just up the street from my apartment, it’s really fantastic except they keep all the best books on the highest shelves.
A lot of your work seems to combine humor and images from pop culture with more sentimental, nostalgic images. Do you tend to gravitate towards humor or sentimentality more in other people’s art?
I would say a bit of both. I get caught up in daydreams of what was and is and all that could be, and I love work that is dreamy and hazy and surreal because that’s how the world feels to me most of the time. I think it’s important not to take shit so seriously though, life is more rewarding when you realize how funny and ridiculous it can be.
Collage is such a unique form of art. What first drew you to it? Are there any collage-artists, or other artists, who you see as inspirations?
Actually a really good friend of mine is a really dope collage artist. I just remember stumbling onto her images and just being completely enchanted with not only her work, but with the idea of making collages, of the process. I love searching for old images and books and magazines, taking forgotten images and making them into something new and giving them new meaning, I think so much of art and culture involves picking and choosing elements of the past and rearranging them to suit the future. I love hunting for good sources and the magic that happens when the perfect image falls onto its counterpart. Another really wonderful thing about collage is how supportive collage artists are of one another and the amount of incredible collaborations that have come from this medium, it’s really awesome to be a small part of it.