Bryant Portwood is a contemporary figurative painter living and working out of Charlotte, NC. Bryant received his BA in studio art with an art history minor from Centre Colleg andhis MFA in painting with an anatomy minor from the New York Academy of Art. He has exhibited work along the East coast from Sugarlift Gallery in New York City to the Miami Oriental as part of Miami Art Week. He received the Founder’s Scholarship at Centre College and the Academy Scholar Award at NYAA.
My work combines visual elements from my childhood with kitsch elements of pop culture to influence the viewer’s perception of the past and address escapism through false, idealized memories. Following the start of the pandemic, I began to stray away from depicting the figure as the focus of my work and started to lean on trinkets as my subject of choice. We place value in ordinary, mundane objects. Personal objects can hold significant meaning where they serve as a reminder and are nostalgic, or they serve as an enabler for our imagination to take over and urge escapist desires. I’ll admit it, I paint a lot of toys. Not only do they serve as an extension of my personality, but they are objects that I have found a nostalgic comfort in. However, there is a certain blurriness to all the fond memories I have, and I try to echo that surreal quality in my paintings as if everything I have experienced thus far has had an impact on shaping these selective memories. My saturated color palette mimics the vibrancy of commercial advertisements, comics, memes, film, and other saturated images that I have been bombarded with. The fact that I am regurgitating all of these as influences creates an ambiguous feeling where my work can be dreamlike, funny, or even dark. With my classical training, I aim to pay homage to the past through the physical process and techniques of painting, while adding my own contribution to the conversation through my use of color and my tendency to paint unorthodox subjects.
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What initially drew you to your medium/media of choice?
I love the physicality of oil paint. It’s a very malleable medium where it can be pushed or pulled until you are satisfied. When I tell people that I am an oil painter some of the common responses often revolve around the lengthy dry time or the idea that using oil paint is difficult. I would argue that oil painting is an extremely forgiving medium. If something is wrong, it can easily be scraped off of the canvas and repainted. To be honest, a lot of my process is trial and error. With oil especially, you have the ability to get some really beautiful and high chroma color mixtures, which is something I haven’t been able to mimic with other mediums. The hardest part of painting is practicing and experimenting with your materials until you are familiar with how different colors will interact or how the transparency or opaqueness of a paint can come into play.
What aspect of your art do you hope really comes across to your audience?
There are two aspects of my work that I would like to come across to the audience. The first is my use of color and the second is the quirky nature of my paintings. I think the combination of the two really serves as an extension of myself and my own interests. At surface value, my paintings can hold a shock value with bright colors and unorthodox subjects. I think there is a quirky sense of humor in my work that can draw the audience in. It is only after that initial shock that the time, technical skill, and other details come into focus.
Who inspires you in your life, whether it be artistically or otherwise?
I draw inspiration from my own experiences and interests. A bulk of my work revolves around nostalgia for my childhood, and I am very lucky to have a partner who supports these weird interests. For example, I have eight more Furbies than the average American. Artistically, I wouldn't say I have a list of go-to artists. I am always looking at artists from different periods as well as artists working in different genres and mediums. It is always fresh to take bits and pieces from other creatives and try to implement them into my own work. Some of the artists that I am currently looking at for inspiration include Greg Manchess, Kai Lun Qu, and Julie Beck where I am basically looking into paint application, color, and composition.
What keeps you going as an artist? Where do you find that creative drive?
Creating feels like something I have to do. I paint every day and feel physically ill if I do not. Even my hobbies revolve around creating, where I do everything from building models to making replica helmets. Finding a creative drive has never been difficult for me. Yes, sometimes I may have artist’s block or a lack of motivation to work on a particular project, but I always have so many different things in the works that I can shift my focus to something else. While, there may be moments of doubt or instances where I question myself as an artist, I continue to create. Again, I feel like it is something that I have to do.
Tell us about your primary goal for the future. Has this goal changed over time?
My primary goal is to reach a point where I can comfortably paint full time. I currently split my time between painting and teaching college courses. My ultimate goal has stayed constant, but the path to becoming a successful artist is always changing. I think nowadays social media plays a significant role in the arts. While it does not make or break an artist, it can be a useful tool in marketing and gaining exposure. When I first started, my only goal was to get into gallery shows, and now I have been able to extend my reach by being included in art festivals, online shows, publications, and social media features. What I've come to notice is that there is no set path. There are multiple ways to get your art in front of people.