Stormy Weather

I did a little Q&A not long ago with Judith Brandon for another site. Since the site hasn’t posted it yet, and her show opens this coming Friday, I’m posting it here! I’ve loved her stuff for years. (be sure to click for larger images)

Judith Brandon is a Cleveland-based artist with a passion for the environment and ever changing weather patterns. Graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art degrees in drawing and enameling, her abstract landscapes are filled with lonesome prairies, water, clouds, storms, and what can sometimes look like oil refineries gone bad. Using her own intuition and a little inspiration from The Weather Channel, her works on paper appear both soft and chaotic. At times you wonder, are these scenes from a distant planet, or is it our own?

What are your favorite materials and weapons of choice for creating your work?

I use a lot of sharp objects like bamboo skewers, nails and scribes. I also love razor blades; I use them for a variety of things including shaving down and mixing dry pigments.   My work wouldn’t exist without my staple gun. It holds down large sheets of cotton paper while I douse it with water and dyes repeatedly.  I save all of the staples I use, someday they will be a work of art too.

What is your planning and process like, do you use reference material or are these from imagination?

This is hard to say. Everything is reference material for me. I have a lot of books and magazines around my studio, but when I work I rarely refer to them.
My imagination has a big role in the initial conception of a piece, but then logic and execution are critical for me to make sense of it. It may be days of working before I figure out what is actually going on with a piece for it’s final direction. Then I’ll see something in the sky or on the news and I’ll be validated in that decision.

Your earlier work featured a lot of animals, endangered ones. When and how did the focus change to weather and the environment as the main character — so to speak?

My focus initially changed after talking with Mark Atkinson. At the time in 2002 he was the rhino and large animal veterinarian for the Wilds.  He came from a rhino reserve in South Africa where he was asked to leave after catching his own guards poaching.  He told me that breeding programs are great for education, but there will be nowhere to release these animals in the future. In the end, most animals will be captive in one way or another.  There in lies the rub; what’s the point of saving animals when there is nowhere for them to live a decent life?   Saving their habitats is ideal to creating the best possible scenario for endangered species.  I can not tell you the deep sorrow I feel after losing the Vietnam rhino to extinction.  When I had my rhino show at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo in 2002 there were only 40 of these guys and the last female was poached this last April. They had a protected habitat, but still they were poached into extinction. It takes too much out of me to try and make sense out of it; I’ve grown to expect the lowest common denominator when people are involved with nature and money.  As far as animals in my art, they are still there- you just have to look for them.

My hero is the planet. I am so amazed by how much crap it can take.  We keep chewing it up and filling it’s veins with plastic and stripping it’s crust for resources and box stores and it keeps giving back, mostly beauty and renewal. As an artist I have some understanding of the delicate balance between control and loss of control, but nature takes everything and amplifies it. Whatever destruction we can do to nature; nature can return and sometimes it’s twice as nasty. We are seeing more and more of these natural events taking place.

I find myself compelled to explore what it might feel like to have a particular viewpoint into these natural disasters. I discovered that it is a lot of fun to paint a tornado. It’s also incredibly beautiful and sad to bury a city in ash on paper and see a very similar image of Haiti covered in ash a few weeks later.  There’s something about the weather…

These images look like it could be the chaotic beginnings of our planet, but also the end. What do you think the future will look like?

In my mind the planet is a living creature kicking and screaming to survive in some places, and blooming with abundance and sensational grandeur in others.
It is the only living planet that we know of- if it responds like most living things that are loved, it will thrive.

You have a solo show coming up at Kenneth Paul Lesko Gallery in Cleveland. Are there any other projects you have going on we should know about?

I have some experimental works on handmade paper at the Morgan Conservatory right now. I will have piece in the Cleveland Artist Foundations exhibition, “Cleveland Creates” and Randall Tiedman and I will have some work at Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati this Spring.

I’m sure there will be a snow sculpture or two this winter as well as some mobile making and repairs to some that didn’t fair to well in the studio move. I also plan on seeing the entire Godfather series this winter. It’s pitiful that I haven’t seen it yet.

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