Bri Wenke is a Charleston based painter and installation artist who creates expressive figurative work with a deliberate blend of soft and crude realism. Having earned a history and anthropology degree from the University of Connecticut, her work is inspired by deconstruction, contrast, and a fascination with the antiquity and complexity of the human story.She has collaborated in large immersive projects such as “Consumption” and "A.I. vs Art" and exhibited a live installation for The Entrepreneur’s Organization East Coast Conference. Wenke's work can be found in private collections around the globe, and is exhibited in Charleston, SC at the Grand Bohemian Gallery. Additional features and collaborations include Charleston Living Magazine, Art Market International Magazine, YETI, Entrepreneurs Org, Exxpedition, and Yelp. Bri received the 2021 Lowcountry Arts Grant.
There are thousands of nerve endings in our skin. Adaptations to help us navigate the infinite world of sensory input; the heat, the sharp, the cold, the soft.
The skin is where we feel everything. When the air shifts, when we long for touch, when we feel an embrace, when a silent threat is nearby, when the fire is warm, when the ice burns, when shame is acidic, when we feel a fleeting piece of a better whole, and just before a storm hits and the weight drops.I'm utilizing the vocabulary I have painstakingly built over the last decade in my studio, and attempting to tell my story, in the most intimate way.
The work is a confrontation of the self, of the inner chaos and incessant chatter that threatens to dissolve our strength and sanity. To remain on autopilot, to feel anxiety so distinctly in the body because the mind won’t make the time. To take a sober look at what the internal landscape feels like, holding up a black mirror, so to speak, but not without an undertone of humility.
A story that I hope sheds light for others, one that evokes rawness, honesty, ownership, and empowerment. I'm painting what I've seen, but more importantly, what I've felt in my chest and in my skin, in an instant, over a lifetime.
When was the first time you felt like you were an artist?
My first studio was in Charleston, SC at Redux Contemporary Art Center. I had been painting out of my home for over a year, and I was ready for the next step, and a bit of work/home separation. I had emailed them for months about getting a space, with no reply. One day I decided to walk in, I met with one of the managers who was caught off guard, but ultimately after I explained why I deserved to be a part of the Redux community, she gave me a small 12x12’ studio space. Having this designated workspace to drive to each day, to stop at the coffee shop on my way in, to feel like a participant in society. To leave a mess in the evening and have it be exactly where I left it the next morning, this was where I felt the space to own and breathe, like I was truly a working artist.
What would you say is the underlying thread that connects your work?
An emotive, visceral quality is the thread that ties my work together. The heavy texture of the knife strokes, the capture of energy, more than a conclusive narrative.
What is the most satisfying part of your practice?
The middle. Getting started is often plagued with imposter syndrome, and sometimes I can dance around the beginning stage for days without making any marks. Once I get my antsy self in front of the easel and paint on the canvas, a much easier flow can occur, one that feels so fluid I forget that I didn’t think I could paint two hours earlier. In the thick of it, when an end isn’t fully in sight, and so much potential has yet to be uncovered, that’s the part that I live for. Anything feels possible.
Tell us about a turning point in your artistic journey and/or career.
One of many turning points in my art career has to be the year I began working with a gallery here in Charleston. Up until that point, I had been saying ‘yes’ to each and every opportunity I could get my hands on. I was showing my work any place that would let me, and taking on any commission that came my way. Although it felt like a huge leap of faith, I was finally able to say ‘no’ to some smaller things, to make space and time for bigger opportunities. Larger, more intentional projects are how we develop as creatives.
If you could show your work anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
Based on my personal love for NYC stemming back to my childhood, it would be an absolute dream to exhibit in New York, in a contemporary gallery in Chelsea. An even bigger dream would be the Grand Palais in Paris. I once spent a month touring the museums in Paris, long before I thought I could ever be a full-time artist. In the Grand Palais was an enormous immersive installation of color and light that completely opened my mind to what could be possible. One day, I would be thrilled to feel I was perhaps contributing to the conversations of the art world, within a city that has developed some of the greatest creative minds of the 20th century and houses some of the most revered works in human history.