Interview with artist Brian T. Port —
1. Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Brian T. Port and I paint what I like to call “Figurative Still Lifes” in a contemporary realist way. I’m just your average married father of two who is trying to paint masterpieces in between changing diapers, doing dishes etc. A surreal kind of experience sometimes, but it keeps me grounded.
2. Why art?
That’s a good one. Over the years I often question that, thinking it would’ve been easier to just have been an accountant, doctor, pharmacist, police officer, personal trainer…you know, the normal kind of jobs. I always come back to my senses though and remember that it’s not an accident that I ended up a painter. I’ve been making art my whole life and it always feels like home to be in front of the easel.
3. What is your earliest memory of wanting to be an artist?
I don’t know if it was so much a decision point as much as something I already was doing. However, in high school a couple students from the Columbus College of Art and Design (where I ended up going) visited and I was blown away by the caliber of their work. I knew then I really wanted to do that professionally.
4. What are your favorite subject(s) and media(s)?
That is where the “Figurative Still Life” term comes in. I have always loved painting people and doing still lifes but it took a long time to figure out a good way to combine them. In a way the classical academic artists have been doing this forever by practicing on plaster casts before tackling the figure. I did a cast painting but knew I wanted to develop the next evolution of this, something more contemporary. One day I was trolling the antique store looking for still life props and came across a remarkable little bust of a woman. I held it up to the light and was struck with the possibilities. Since then my work has changed quite a bit. As far as media I use on oil on panel. I absolutely love the silver quality of pencil drawings too but I need to get back to making more.
5. How do you work and approach your subject?
I feel like since my work has so much of a time investment (I can spend 100 hours easy on a little 12”x12” panel) each one feels like my own little world. I get lost for days in the face of a rock, the blade of a knife, solid gold hair. I listen to quite a lot of audiobooks too so often when I look at a particular passage the story comes back to mind. This adds to the depth of the world I’m building in my mind…another layer. As far composition goes I either get an idea out of nowhere and record it in a sketchbook with just a few lines or I spend days with a pile of objects, thinking and trying things out. I like both ways.
6. What are your favorite art work(s), artist(s)?
I’ve been through a lot of museums and galleries and seen a lot of work. Nothing will ever surpass the Andrew Wyeth retrospective “Memory and Magic” at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. They had almost every major work he had ever done and they were so breathtaking…so much more than reproductions. I don’t care if it’s not cool to like him, he’s the greatest in my opinion. His portrait “Siri” was incredible. Of course I love the usual, John Singer Sargent, William-Adolphe Bouguereau and Johannes Vermeer. As far as living artists I think Daniel Sprick and Scott Frasier are my favorites but there are so many. I consider Daniel Sprick the greatest living painter. I got to meet him at one of his solo show openings once. I just stood there like a goon more or less.
7. What are the best responses you have had to your work?
I’ve been fortunate to be represented by a very supportive gallery. The owner Michelle Brandt of Brandt-Roberts Galleries, has been so encouraging and patient. Her and her staff always make me feel that all the time I’m spending on these paintings doesn’t go unnoticed…that they see the quality level. One time the gallery manager Christine called me after I dropped a painting off and told me she didn’t think I realized the power or effect that my paintings have on people. I really don’t realize that but it was very encouraging to hear. Through the gallery I’ve met some equally encouraging collectors. I’ve had numerous conversations with a few in particular that keep me going. Knowing that I’ve made someone happy sounds trite but it’s what it’s all about. That and making people think and question.
8. What do you like about your work?
I (like many others) love the challenge of painting. I read somewhere once that painting was one of the few things that could interest the genius mind of Leonardo Da Vinci. It is because it never gets old, there is always a new level to reach. New things to say. I like the moment when the painting comes alive and begins to glow.
9. What advice would you give to other artists?
I think too many artists wrap their whole identity, reason for being, in art. While art is an amazing thing I don’t think it is THE thing. Get away from your work sometimes and invest in love, family and helping others. It would be a shame to climb to the top of the art career ladder and realize that there is nothing there, that you’ve climbed the wrong ladder. No one on their deathbed is going to wish they spent more time in front of the easel. Why do you think billionaires like Bill Gates turn to philanthropy when they seemingly have everything in the world? They’ve learned there are more important things.
10. Where do you see yourself in 5-10 years?
When my kids are a little older I want to hop on a motorcycle and ride from Alaska to Argentina. Or at least through the USA and down through Mexico. Leave the easel behind for a little while and then get back to work.