Artist and illustrator, Brendon Flynn taps into the dark recesses of the human psyche, paying particular attention to those regions that have the potential to terrify and unnerve. Flynn draws upon captivating facets of human history and discovery, such as mythology, religion and science, that clearly highlight our innate compulsion to unveil the unknown and the evil that can lurk or manifest within mysterious shadows. Incorporating his own interest in the natural world, Flynn conjures up abominable creatures; ‘monsters’, in the most veracious sense of the word, rendering them with masterly skill, amid narratives and symbols that have us reflecting on our own nefarious contributions to the world and asking ourselves those difficult questions concerning what truly lies within the heart of humanity.
Brendon Flynn is an illustrator and fine artist living and working in Syracuse, New York, who gained his BFA in Illustration from the University of The Arts in Philadelphia. Since graduating, his many creative endeavours have included exhibiting at renowned galleries such as, Gallery1988, Haven Gallery and Gallery Nucleus, and creating cover art and posters for numerous rock and heavy metal bands, including Freya, his own impressive metalcore/hardcore outfit.
WOW x WOW was honoured to have had Brendon participate in last year’s exhibition of square artworks, WOW², and is looking forward to working with him again this year. We recently caught up with him to find out more about his multifaceted creative output and we hope that you enjoy reading the following exclusive interview.
Hi Brendon, thanks so much for making the time to have a chat, we really appreciate it. To get us started, can you give us some background on what has lead you to this point in your professional life, be it your formal training, serendipity, etc.?
I feel that my professional aspirations and journey as an artist started during college. Like most young adults, it was my first time to really explore who I was as a person. It also was where I started to slowly assemble my own artistic voice. I went to the University of The Arts in Philadelphia, where I received my BFA in Illustration. My experience at UARTS really opened my eyes to so many artists, styles and techniques that I was previously unaware of. Since UARTS is also a performance art school, it also showed me the endless variety of artistic expression there is and inspired me to keep an open mind about my own relationship with the arts.
After graduation, I returned home to Syracuse, New York and was dead-set on diving into the field of children’s books. A few of my favorite professors at UARTS were children’s book illustrators and I was pretty sure that was the path for me as well.
At that time, my life was very intertwined with the local music scene since most of my friends, including myself, played in hardcore, rock and metal bands. With everyone needing album art and shirt designs, my artwork naturally (and very quickly) took a different and much darker direction to fit the heavier music. NO complaints here.
Talk to us about growing up. In what ways did your childhood and upbringing affect your relationship with the arts?
I know it seems a bit cliché, as almost every artist I know says the same thing, but some of my earliest memories when I was little, revolved around me drawing. Cars mostly. Drawing was the only thing that I was really good at as a kid and one of the few things that I liked to do. I was very fortunate to have inspiring and supportive art teachers throughout my young life, who also gave me the confidence to apply to art school.
I was always drawn to darker subject matter in music, movies and comics when I was in middle and high school. I was a huge fan of Spawn and some anime (mainly just Devilman, Ninja Scroll and Akira) at that time. I also really fell in love with a lot of the punk and metal album covers, especially from Iron Maiden and Testament. Most of the art that I was attracted to was full of great detail and definitely impacted how I like to draw and paint to this day.
We were very honored to have you participate in our ‘WOW²’ show in October. You created a fantastic new painting entitled, ‘Under the Shadow of Time’ We’d love for you to give us a little background on the piece. What were your inspirations and how does the image fit into your larger body of work?
Let me take this opportunity to thank you for including me in that awesome show! I’ll start by telling you that, I LOVE monsters. I like to paint them more than anything else. I am fascinated by the depiction of them throughout history; the roles they play in literature and mythology and the never-ending forms they can take. I feel that the human imagination really runs wild with the things that can scare us or cause us actual harm. But honestly, the monsters that I paint don’t scare me half as much as actual human beings do. Just like many cultures have done in the past, I like to continue and explore my personal depiction of the ‘monster’ as being the dark reflection of us.
Another huge component of my current work is to use the varied forms and textures that can be found in nature and appropriate them to build my own world. I have a growing collection of objects that I use as inspiration and reference: rocks, sticks, shells, bones, skulls, fossils, etc. I like to use these to inspire and inform the anatomy or skin texture of the creatures I create. I also like to use and blur the elements of other living creatures into areas where they aren’t usually found: Using the forms of a crocodile tail for the texture of a horn or serpent body or doing the same with the textures of a seahorse, for example.
‘Under The Shadow of Time’, was my depiction of a God that controls the elements of time. I’m sure I will do many different variations on this guy and the theme of ‘time’, but this was what came out in that moment.
Music is a large part of your life. You’re a guitarist in the successful metalcore/hardcore band, Freya, who you also created album cover art for. Talk to us about your relationship with heavy metal: about the synergy you’ve experienced between music and visual art and in what vital ways your artistic aesthetic has been influenced by sound and the culture surrounding it.
I grew up playing piano and saxophone, but made the switch to guitar when I was 17. I was listening to solely guitar driven music at the time, so it seemed like the most logical choice. Just like the change from piano and saxophone to the guitar, my progression into creating darker, fantasy and sci-fi driven art, moved in direct parallel with my musical taste. Overall, I would say that my inspiration for my visual art and song writing is interchangeable. Both areas of creativity are fed by everything I immerse myself into.
Since my teenage years, I always felt more comfortable amongst other creative people. In my situation, these creative kids also gravitated towards similar interests as my own and were not seen as being very popular. Everyone has his or her comfort zone or place where they feel they fit in; mine was definitely with the rest of the ‘outcasts’.
As I grow older, I realize that my ‘comfort zone’ has broadened immensely. I feel that it is just a by-product of being more confident in myself. I also don’t find myself identifying with such few people or just one ‘clique’ as I once did. With that being said, the community and culture behind metal and hardcore does seem to embrace the weirder and less ‘popular’ trends in art, or at least the style and artistic language that I currently create, and in that way, I still feel very tied to it. I do realize however, just like in high school, that every group or ‘clique’, no matter how exclusive or ‘underground’ they seem or want to promote, are not immune to being imprisoned within their own rules of conformity.
Where does your sense of community currently stem from as an artist? Do you feel part of a close-knit scene in your home city, or do you connect more with other creatives online? Is community something that is important to you and your creativity?
I definitely thrive when there are creative and positive people around. I am very fortunate that I have created a group of amazingly talented, close friends in Syracuse that I can feed off of. They are not all visual artists, but there are so many parallels in all of our different creative fields. Plus, we all can find common ground when we need to vent about difficult clients.
I will say, that living in a smaller city like Syracuse does have its drawbacks. Living expenses are low, but there is not much money floating around for the arts. There is definitely an audience for ‘outsider’ art here, but they are not usually the people looking to hire an artist.
With that being the case, I feel expanding my contacts and community online is very important. As much as I despise most aspects of social media, it does allow me to connect with people that I would not have access to otherwise. I never know what kind of connection I will make. It might lead to my next inspirational breakthrough, or a cool commission.
What has been the most exciting life and impact you have you witnessed any of your art take on after leaving the confines of your studio? What kind of feelings do you have about letting your creations go and live their own lives in the big wide world?
I don’t really have one event that comes to mind, but I do always love when the fans of a band that I have created a cover for, get excited about the art. I personally think that the cover and layout art are very important and can influence how the listener will perceive the music on an album, especially on the first listen. I feel that Metal fans are different than other fans in other genres of music. I have noticed that the physical product and the art still hold relevance to them. The actual sales have gone down overall, but there is a growing demand for more elaborate packaging now for those that still seek out the actual CD or record. It may cost a little more, but it definitely adds a special and more personalized touch for the collector.
As a young artist, I had a hard time parting with my paintings. I am sure a lot of artists feel this way. I would spend a lot more time struggling with composition, anatomy and color, so naturally I felt like each piece was worth more. I then started to get better (and needed money), so the pieces became less precious. The biggest challenge was to practice the ‘art’ of just finishing the project and moving on. There is always the next piece. The paintings were also so customized and specific to the client, that it felt natural to let them just be what they were. There is nothing sadder to me than having the walls of my studio or apartment adorned with my own work. I would much rather be able to collect work from other artists. I’m not gonna lie though, there are still a few of my own paintings that I don’t want to part with because of a deep personal connection or a technical milestone, but there aren’t many.
As we move through life we continue to grow and change. In what ways have you seen your work evolve since you started down the path of being a professional artist?
Aside from the aforementioned change in subject matter, I feel that I have started to refine and become more confident in the areas of color, composition and mark making (to name a few). I know that I have certain deficiencies that I want to tackle in my current and future work, but I have come to realize that every artist has those, and they will never stop being there.
I have a great appreciation for so many artists and how they depict the world around them. I have many moments where I wish that I could develop the skills to paint, draw or compose like some of my heroes. Embracing my own artistic voice and being comfortable with it, has been the biggest struggle by a long shot. Also, realizing that the idea of ‘style’ is not etched in stone, but rather a slow process of gathered personal experience, of both success and failure, which is honed throughout a lifetime.
What have been some of the greatest breakthroughs you’ve experienced within your learning as an artist? Those moments that have opened up whole new creative avenues or that have led to you taking large leaps forward in your development?
The biggest breakthrough for me was finding acrylic paint. I know that a lot of artists hate working with it because it dries fast, but that is exactly why I like it. When I draw, with pen or pencil, I tend to cross hatch to build my values. I found that I could use acrylic in a very similar way by layering the color with smaller marks. It also allows for covering up mistakes quickly and reworking those areas without creating a muddy, ugly mess.
What would be the greatest compliment you could ever receive about your work?
I really appreciate when I hear that I have inspired someone else to start creating, however that may be. I feel that everyone should take the time and explore that side of themselves.
In order to get a better understanding of the personality of an artist, it can help to get a peek behind the curtain. Would you be willing to share a story from your own life, possibly one whose memory you find yourself returning to for inspiration, or maybe just a tale about a hardship you’ve overcome which has helped define the person and therefore artist that you are now?
My grandfather went to school to be an architect and graduated at the beginning of the Great Depression in 1929. As one could imagine, he had a very hard time finding work as an architect, so sadly he went into selling life insurance to support his growing family.
My parents had a lot of his museum studies, still life paintings and architectural projects framed and hung throughout our house. He passed away when I was very little, but I have very fond memories of marveling at these paintings and drawings, hoping that I might be able to eventually paint and draw like him.
I have had many influential events and people that have helped shape and inspire my love for the arts, but the moments I had looking at my grandfather’s work is by far what I held onto and cherish most.
If you could own one piece of art from any of the world’s collections, what would it be and why?
This is one of the toughest questions! There are too many. I would love to own any piece by Sergio Toppi. I envy his ability to draw anything in his own style and create such amazing and fluid compositions. His story telling was incredible. Any portrait by John Singer Sargent or Ilya Repin would be nice too!
What’s next for Brendon Flynn?
I want to keep exploring where I can take the creatures that are in my head. I have an endless list of clients that I have yet to work with, so crossing off a couple would be nice. I would also like to be able to stop needing to bartend…that would be ideal.