The Polymorphism of Paint by Brian Huber
By Purva Chawla
For thousands of years, we have watched paint express texture, reflect mood and environment, and direct our experience of color.
But have we seen it behave like an entirely different material–say textile?
Have we been exposed to paint as an almost structural entity–one that forges a composition as a hard material might?
Through artist Brian Huber's work, we can indeed witness paint in these avatars and revel in its polymorphism. In his three-dimensional and sculptural wall-hung works, Brian often wields paint as one might work with fabric. Drawing from the materiality of acrylic paint gels–a medium he has mastered–he manipulates gels into textile-like sheets. Once the sheets dry, their pliable, cloth-like forms are cut into strips or pieces, which make their way to canvas panels.
In Brian's most recent Braided series, these strips of acrylic gel are woven into robust and intricately twined formations that hark back to the natural landscape. Here, the upright strips of acrylic are what structure the entire composition. In his Veil series of works, chunks of patterned, dried acrylic gel are rumpled and folded onto canvas-wrapped panels. One may be looking at hardened pieces of pigment in these works, but actually, all that one perceives here is a swathe of fabric.
This is the power of Brian Huber's ownership and mastery of his medium, compelling us to see paint, pigment, gel–whatever one's term of choice– in a capacity that we have never seen before. Suddenly, the abilities that we attribute to tubes and jars of paint are stretched far, far out.
In the Braided series, in fact, we see acrylic paint simultaneously in two states or formats. The first is its dried, structural form; one that is arranged by Brian freehand onto large, often circular panels. The second is the liquid, glossy format of paint that we are most familiar with, which becomes the infill for the composition created by the former.
An exciting player in the making of Brian's work is 'time.' The organic placement of acrylic strips in his most recent works is completed over a period of several weeks. Next, a coat of plain white primer paint is infilled into the pattern and dried for two to three days. The vibrant mosaic of colors in Brian's works that strike viewers, at first sight, is actually created in the last few hours of this timeline.
What is more, the massive wall-hung sculptures are created in a horizontal state, with Brian looming above them, sometimes aided by ladders to take in their entire breadth. It is only when the pieces are lifted off the ground, several weeks later, to be hung vertically, is the whole picture revealed to its maker.
This journey and process are intriguing, as is Brian's mastery of his medium. Scroll down for our recent conversation with Brian, in which his process and insights into the making of his work, take center-stage.
MD: Brian, how did you arrive at acrylic gels as your medium of choice, and begin to wield them in this way?
Brian: I started painting again, actively, when I turned 50, six years ago. I went to an art supplies store and found shelves and shelves of materials that I wanted to play with.
Acrylics stood out as a medium that I was comfortable in, and I decided to take classes to understand its technical attributes better. I learned that you could dry the acrylic gels into sheets, and using layers of emulsion you could transfer prints onto clear sheets of acrylic paint.
While the printing did not fascinate me as much, the material qualities of sheet-like acrylic appealed to me, and I began to use it more and more in my works. In some way, I felt like a weaver, with textile; I was creating rolls of fabric from these sheets of acrylic.
Over the course of these past six years, I have worked on the establishment of a polished finished product; experimenting with different additives and drying times. I am satisfied with the finish I have with the acrylic I use now, also because it still looks like paint, not any other medium–a quality I would like to retain.
MD: From older series such as the 'Barrier' series to 'Veil', and more recent sets of work such as 'Circle Back' and 'Braided', your work seems to be gaining more and more three-dimensionality. Tell us about that.
Brian: Three dimensionality is very relevant to my work, so yes, absolutely, this aspect has continued to become more and more significant.
I like to see the effect of light and shadow in my works and witness them transform over the course of the day, with changing sunlight. You will see that lighting is crucial to the placement of my works. For this reason, three-dimensionality, and a certain sculptural quality has been of growing importance since they allow me to play with the aspects of light and shadow more and more.
MD: You mention that your works are often the abstraction of architectural (humanmade) elements and natural landscapes. What are the factors that have influenced your current work and are playing a role in your upcoming work?
Brian: For the Braided series, you will see incredibly organic forms that are influenced by my visit to Denali National Park in Alaska. At the park, white-silt filled braided rivers flow from the melting glaciers. So the natural landscape of the park and these formations have played heavily into the compositions of this series.
During this visit, I was also intrigued by the geology of the park, its rock structures, and patterns. I captured this, and I feel this–a conversation about time, through the lens of geology–will be a heavy influence on my upcoming work.
MD: What are you hoping to achieve, materially, from your future work?
Brian: I enjoyed the fact that I was able to literally 'fold' paint, in some of my previous work, like the 'Veiled' Series. I would like to do a lot more of that and bring a great deal of texture and depth to the canvas. That will certainly be core to my future work.