Interview: Brin Levinson

20150212 Poppycock Brin Levinson-173 Edit

Artist Brin Levinson came to Portland in 2001 and has spent years since cutting his teeth in the art world. His work has been showcased in Tall Trees of Portland, the online art journal Empty Kingdom, and OPB’s art beat to name a few, not that these distinctions matter when it comes to art, but there you have it.

What are some of the small pleasures that you encounter as a painter?

There are a lot of small pleasures. One that I think a lot of people don’t know about, but I discovered when I started painting, is that it makes you see everything differently in a completely literal way. You start to see colors everywhere and everything is enhanced because you’ve trained your eyes to see subtleties. Sometimes shadows glow with color more than places in the light and it’s amazing because you never noticed before. The way ordinary things look can actually be fascinating. It feels like you’ve been let in on a secret pleasure that most people don’t know about.

What is your creative or daily routine like?

I’m not a morning person, I start the day slowly and start working usually around noon. My peak energy is in the early evening so I usually work best later in the day and often into the night. I take a lot of breaks and go outside but never really stop “working” for too long. Sometimes I hit a wall with the painting and end up spending most of the day looking at pictures and thinking which is actually a big part of the work. You can cover a lot of ground trying ideas out in your head.

How and when did you first realize that painting was what you were going to do to pay the bills?

For me it was a gradual process that took many years. I worked a lot of day jobs and did some illustration work on the side at first. Eventually I decided to see if I could get by working on art and illustration alone if I did it every day like a job. I also did some woodworking on the side and it all worked out. Over the years, my career has gotten better and I can focus more on my art without random distractions and side work for paying the bills.

What was your relationship with nature while growing up and how has that influenced your work as a painter?

I was a total nature boy, kind of like a monkey. I grew up in the country and went into the woods all the time. I used to want to live in the trees but eventually society won me over and now I live in town. I can only take it in small doses though, I’m not a big city person, I prefer a small or medium sized city. Since I’ve been assimilated into the collective, I think I miss my deeper connection to nature and that may be something that comes out in my art. 

Where do you go when you need to feel reinvigorated?

The shower. That’s pretty much why I live in a house. I also find that being in beautiful places is inspiring so I like to find new areas I haven’t seen before. The mountains are great but so are little towns and neighborhoods. Even a new viewpoint is an exciting find. I think most of all the sun is what makes us feel alive so if it’s sunny, I get in it. That’s what summer is for.

How do you know when a painting is finished?

Usually they’re never finished but they’re close enough. If nothing bothers me compositionally, it means it’s almost there. If something is off balance or distracts from the visual flow, I have to fix it. I’ve gone back and finished older pieces that felt unfinished; sometimes it takes a while before you can see what needs to happen.

Is there a goal for your paintings? Do you have a message or are the paintings themselves the messages?

The main concepts in my work came about pretty quickly after I started painting urban landscapes about ten years ago. My original intent was to paint imagery that was familiar but not necessarily recognizable to create a nostalgic feeling. I’ve tried to keep that dreamlike quality in my work while also embracing more obvious ideas that have been woven into my imagery. I love hearing what people see because it’s not always obvious what’s going on and everyone has their own take on it. 

words: ben ramsey pics: brittini  maderos

For more check out Poppycock Magazine in print at Reading Frenzy on Mississippi Ave.

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