Attending a liberal arts college as an art major, I often found myself on the defensive as fellow students questioned the wisdom of studying art at a "non-art" school. My studio professors, on the other hand, often talked about the MFA world and the differences in classroom pedagogy. As having an MFA rapidly becomes the prerequisite to art-world success, I wanted to explore some of the peculiarities unique to MFA programs. I went to Andrew Brischler, an accomplished painter working in Brooklyn, for a little insight. We corresponded over email.
First, I know you went from an undergraduate state school to a professional MFA program. As a practicing artist, what prompted that decision?
When I was 18 and applying to undergraduate programs, I applied to 4 art schools and 4 liberal art schools; At that point in my life, being so young, it never really occurred to me that art could be professional; so after not getting into my top two schools, I panicked and decided to go to a state school. After getting my BFA in painting, I knew that this was it for me; I like to joke that I'm not good enough at anything else but art, but in actuality, it's the only thing that I truly can't get enough of. Seeing shows in the city, reading art blogs at 3am, it's all just natural for me. So going right into an MFA program right out of undergrad was an easy decision.
You've described the move as "quite a transition." Tell me more?
The transition has been immense. At SUNY New Paltz where I went to undergrad, there was a sense of isolation in art making; though we planned trips to Chelsea galleries and talked about contemporary artists, there was no way around the fact that I was making art in a comfortable bubble in the Hudson Valley. At School of Visual Arts, it's completely different. My studio building is in the heart of Chelsea--21st st and 7th ave--and my professors are people that I've admired for my entire adult life, like Marilyn Minter, James Siena, Petah Coyne, Fred Wilson, and Jake Berthot. It's such a friendly and supportive atmosphere, but because almost everyone in my program has the same goal, it's definitely competitive and critical.
I know from our previous conversations that you aspire to a career as an artist. At this point, how do you think your experience in an MFA program has helped/hindered that?
My first studio class ever at SVA was with James Siena, and sitting next to him the first day, everything, the whole art world, was just demystified. He's represented by The Pace Gallery here in NYC--one of the biggest galleries in the world--and he talked about his career, the inner workings of dealing with galleries while still making successful work--with such a level head that it all just seemed to make more sense. SVA has helped me get into a groove of making work, being constantly critical of it, and be proactive when it comes to my career.
Looking back on diverse classroom experiences, what do you think has meaningfully impacted your own artistic thinking?
I think it has been one on one conversations with working artists, whether they've been professors or artists part of our visiting lecture series. I have become so close to the artists who have mentored me, and I think that's crucial in any artist's success, to have a network of supportive, creative, intelligent people around them.
As I look through your art, it's clear that your practice has evolved quite a bit. What kinds of factors do you find influential in pushing you to grow?
I like to think of whats happened to my work over the past 4 years as letting go. I've let go of control, of personal subject matter, of, I think, the "frills." I've realized that what I've always been interested in has been materiality--how working with paint at a primal level can prove to be a deeply emotional experience. I think I've found that through making a lot of outwardly personal work and realizing that it wasn't a part of my ultimate goal. My first semester at SVA was definitely a large factor too; people saw that the work was derivative and too cluttered with reference. In the past few months, I've definitely found a way to let the work be the work and my personal life be separate.
Your choice of titles intrigues me. I had a photography professor who lamented that students rarely take the time to title their art well. What do you think?
Titles are tricky. I don't take titling my work too seriously; almost all of my recent work have titles relating back to song lyrics or movie quotes, mostly because its a way to give the work some levity and lightness. Abstract painting can get really heavy with reference and psychological baggage. One day in my studio, I was listening to Tina Turner and decided to name what I was working on exactly what I was listening to. People seem to respond to that. As for what your photography professor once said, I can sympathize. In my opinion, titles should either be completely incidental (like mine are), simple (like Rothko's) or deeply add to the experience of the piece.