Somerville-based artist Brian Hart is one of Helikon Gallery’s ‘Muses’ of 2016, featured in our annual ‘Muses of Mount Helikon’ exhibition opening next week. Gallery curator Annie Aqua spoke with Brian at his studio this past spring and visited his installation in Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return” last week. Read about both visits below.

Brian Hart, "Boardwalk"
Brian Hart, “Boardwalk”

I came across Brian Hart’s work about a year ago, on an open submission post on booooom.com, one of my favorite art-design-music websites: scrolling through hundreds of artist posts, I was immediately struck by Brian’s image for its vibrant complexity. Layer upon layer of rich imagery forms into one cohesive image, but one that requires extended viewing to understand its many parts.

Brain Hart, "A Panopte"
Brain Hart, “A Panopte”
Paintings in Brian Hart's studio.
Paintings in Brian Hart’s studio.

I visited Brian’s studio in Somerville, MA in April and got the chance to see dozens of his large paintings.
Delving further into Brian’s work, one begins to feel a sense of time and extended history: each painting, in its infinite layering, is its own history, its own timeline, one that is not necessarily a straight line, but doubles back on itself, reveals alternate offshoots, and seems to be always in-process. All the paintings together, then, seem to represent not just years but centuries. This sensation is achieved not only by the apparent number of layers, representing the layers of time in which the artist has created them, but also the images compiled into each painting. They’re culled from a variety of sources, recalling the artist’s personal history as well as moments from a wider world- and art-history. Speaking about his process in a mini documentary by Farad Roberson (https://vimeo.com/faradroberson), the artist recalls his childhood fascination with comic books, an interest in drawing stemming from copying and then making up his own superheroes. These comic-inspired characters resurface in his work now amidst the vibrant layers, alongside elements like a Dürer woodcut, a photograph of a clown, a phrase or sentence, a cherub. 
What I love about these is the depth, the possibility, the potential for different readings by different viewers and even by the same viewer over time.

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Brian studied silkscreening in college at Rhode Island School of Design, and although he no longer uses the process (having access to huge screens beyond school is a challenge) the visual effect appears prominently in all his work. He now uses a digital projector to create the many layers of his paintings, a process which is much more time-consuming than silkscreening, but gives him more control throughout the process to make changes along the way.

This time-consuming process of continual layering requires Brian to be in the studio at least 4 days a week on top of his day job, working at a gallery. Brian’s studio practice is inspiring– as an artist who also works in an art gallery during the day, I’m in awe of the dedication, focus and motivation it takes to produce this level of work consistently.

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Brian showing us an effect of painting with a squeeze bottle.
Brian showing us an effect of painting with a squeeze bottle.

Brian’s studio was in Fringe Union, a 4,000 ft creative co-working space whose studio tenants included graphic design, photography, illustration, and letterpress, as well as a floral design shop and a green roof company. The creative energy in Fringe was palpable even on a day when we were the only people in the building. Since my visit in the spring, some major changes have affected Fringe; Brian caught me up on the current situation and his move to another studio:

“Sadly the building which houses Fringe has been sold and rising rent costs are forcing many of the tenants to seek space elsewhere, a few of the businesses that can afford to are staying in one half of the building. Fringe as a physical location will no longer exist but many of the businesses are choosing to find spaces together to continue the co-working atmosphere. I found a new space in another artist building down the street which is larger and I will be sharing it with my friend who is a painter and illustrator (http://cargocollective.com/brothershilts). Another friend of mine runs a silkscreen studio across the hall (http://www.weinbergdesign.com/) and I’m excited about the possibility of re-introducing some elements of silkscreening into my paintings. I’m excited about the new space but it is still very sad to see our former studio shut down after all these years.

I recently moved my living into the Brickbottom Artist Building in Somerville (http://brickbottomartists.com/history), a previously artist-only building that for a time was the largest artist community in the US. Just this week I found out five other Fringe tenants found space in the building including Mike Dacey of Repeat Press (http://www.repeatpress.com/) , who was one of the founders of Fringe Union.”

Multiple panels of a commission in progress.
Multiple panels of a commission in progress.

When we visited the studio, Brian was working on a large commission for a private collector, incorporating a few parameters of imagery and color from the buyer, but overall a product of the artist’s design and aesthetic like all of his personal work. The process, he told us, is slightly different for commissions: usually when Brian paints he’ll plan only one or two steps ahead, never having a set final image in mind and sometimes even coming back to a painting 6 months or a year after its finished. Working closely to a sketch for commissions is actually more time-consuming in this way, requiring greater focus on the painting over time. 

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Drawings and smaller works.
Drawings and smaller works.
Installation shot of painted wall at Meow Wolf.
Installation shot of painted wall at Meow Wolf.
Installation shot of Brian's room at Meow Wolf.
Installation shot of Brian’s room at Meow Wolf.

Just last week I had the chance to visit another one of Brian’s recent projects: a room of paintings in the permanent immersive art installation in Santa Fe, NM: the art collective Meow Wolf’s “House of Eternal Return.” The installation, built by over 40 artists, is an endlessly fascinating and fun experience and a mandatory destination for Colorado residents. Brian’s room includes three paintings on canvas, a painting directly on the wall, hand stenciled wallpaper, custom carpet design, and LED lights that alter the imagery of the paintings as they change color. The installation, and “House of Eternal Return” as a whole, fits in with Brian’s aesthetic on a huge and at times overwhelming scale. (https://meowwolf.com/)

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Images change as the LED lights color.
Images change as the LED lights color.

To experience a slice of the layered history that makes up Brian’s work, come see his new painting ‘Contained’ in Muses of Mount Helikon IV, opening November 3 and on view through December 10. Thank you to Brian for the studio visit! For more information about his work visit  http://www.thebrianhart.com/.
For more information about Helikon Gallery and Studios visit http://www.helikongallery.com/.

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