Interview with artist Brewster Brockmann

I’m chatting today with renowned local artist, Brewster Brockmann. We’re here in Gary Thompson’s. Galería Pacífico in Puerto Vallarta centro where his works have been displayed for many years. In addition to a BA in biology with a minor in botany from Bennington College in Vermont, Brewster received an MFA in ceramics at the Cranbrook Institute in Michigan. He is the son of an American mother and Mexican father, who met while attending the Rhode Island School of Design. Indeed, many members of his family are artists. His academic training enables him to create works in a wide variety of media. By way of his upbringing in a bi-cultural family of artists, Brewster inherits a wealth of mythology, symbolism and characters, to inform his multi-layered paintings, drawings and terra cotta sculptures.
Brewster’s 2014 show will open during the Wednesday Art Walk on February 26th at 6pm to 10pm. Gary welcomes one and all with a hearty laugh and complimentary refreshments.
Marianne: For all of us who love México, let me just say that you have been very lucky to have been raised in such a vital bi-cultural household.
Brewster: Yes, I think that’s also a part of the work and my persona, I’m not a Mexican, but I’m also not an American. The work has a lot of influence from a Mexican perspective. It’s really the old México, the kind of religious ceremonial life and that, as well, is very influenced by my academic years in the States and the whole contemporary art movement that’s happened around the world.
Marianne: How did you come to live in the Vallarta area?
Brewster: I grew up in Guadalajara. Our family visited PV often during each year, staying at my grandfather’s vacation house. When I finished graduate school in 1995 my wife (who lived in PV until she was a teenager) and I visited PV to decide where and what we were going to do and after a couple of weeks we fell for the local lifestyles, the energy of the town and realized an interesting life could develop here, so we stayed.
Marianne: You’ve had 13 years and 12 shows with Gary here at Galeria Pacifico…that’s quite impressive. Do you have any reflections on that?
Brewster: Even though that’s a lot of shows in the same space, for Puerto Vallarta being sort of a traditional “Art Park” it’s still…there’s just something in Galeria Pacifico that’s kind of still very true to the Vallarta Art Spirit. I’ve gotten to know Gary really well and I like the fact that when people come in and show interest in the work, he doesn’t really throw them a sales pitch, he really understands what the work is about and where it’s coming from. So that’s where he’ll start putting the work in focus. So, I think the fact that we understand each other completely kind of keeps it interesting in here.
Marianne: ¡¡¡Viva Gary!!! Is there a special focus for the show you’ll be debuting this coming Wednesday? (Art Walk Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014)
Brewster: This show has a strong focus on terra cotta sculpture. After years of working with local ground clay and wood [fired] kilns I reached a point technically where I could construct larger pieces without them feeling brittle. This is partly due to my becoming a better burnisher. I’ve also experimented with firing processes that result in rich color with accidental details that add a lot of life to the clay pieces.
I’m also showing a collection of small figures which are a continuation of a clay population I began forming about 12 years ago. These also get burnished now and their dark shiny surface gives them a stronger presence than the earlier figures.
The paintings I will be showing are mostly on paper mounted on wood with a lot of drawing. The various layers of images over images create a journal made of visuals. The images relate to thoughts and memories I’m processing, recent experiences, forms I am fascinated with at a particular moment and my concerns with the destructive nature of humanity as well as humanity’s love and respect for our natural world.
Marianne: Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
Brewster: Yes, that’s just sort of the way I’ve been working for a long time. So, these days I make forms out of clay, I do large works on linen or canvas with oil paints, and then I do a lot of mixed media on paper. So that’s kind of the three things that I’m always doing. And basically, I’ll work on one until it gets kind of stuck or I get kind of fed-up with it and I’ll put it aside, so I’m just kind of jumping from those three, back and forth and it makes the work a little more interesting.
And a lot of times with these mixed media pieces that are very textured and with all kind of images, I’ll work out little design works for forms in the clay, then I’ll jump to the clay piece and maybe the surface of the clay will effect certain surfaces of the painting.
Marianne: Wow, very interesting…now, have you invented any personal technology or tools to facilitate your creations?
Brewster: Actually, no, I think that the way I work is quite traditional, hand-built clay, a lot of pencil, ink, acrylic paint…so my techniques are quite traditional. When I was in school, I was exposed to a very contemporary studio environment, with all kinds of gas kilns and electric kilns and wood kilns and the glaze lab and very sophisticated stuff and then when I finished school I came here and I wanted to continue making clay sculpture, so I was immediately faced with this big problem of not having any money and that it would require a lot of money have a studio that resembled what I’d somewhat become accustomed to. And then I met this man who became a good friend and a kind of teacher of mine who makes a lot of pre-columbian figures, some of them reproductions and he said ‘Oh, you can work with what’s right here in the area, you can still make good clay sculpture, there won’t be any glazing but as far as the forms and surfaces go, you can get whatever you need here.’ So, we dug the clay directly out of the ground and then we fired in a traditional Mexican wood kiln, which is what they use to make a lot of the folk art
Marianne: What do you want your art to say or do? And do you tell stories?
Brewster: Yeah, there’s always a narrative and I think the story I want to tell is just a reminder, as much to myself, as to everybody else, that we’re still a part of this great natural system and as much as we forget about it, in this daily, civilized world.
The damage that we’ve done to the natural environment that we’re part of, is tremendous.
So, I don’t really want to portray the destruction as much as just to remind ourselves that it’s part of us, you know. That hopefully, at some point, we’ll start respecting the natural cycle and that it needs to become just as important to us as the civilized world.
Traveling the villages and searching for the vintage masks is something I’ve been into for a long time. So, that influences my work in a big way. Both literally and figuratively.
Through traveling to ethnic parts of México and seeing their sort of Indigenous-Catholic ceremonial life, there are two big fulfillments, the collecting of certain special objects and then also just to see people who still make art for cultural purposes and cultural identity more than for pursuing an individual vision.
A lot of the traditional culture is a certain respect for the natural world, the natural cycle, which is very unusual in our modern world, so being exposed to that is very fulfilling.
Check out Gary’s great website here

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