For many artists, the digital sphere has been a necessary tool in reaching larger audiences and sidestepping possible gatekeeping from institutions. Instagram, with its emphasis on all things visual, has been particularly helpful.
Since the 2018 rollout of a feature that allows users to share other peoples’ posts in their Instagram stories, profiles on the social media platform have become reminiscent of the blogs on LiveJournal or Tumblr, with personal posts placed between music suggestions and images meant to boost an imagined aesthetic. Queued after videos from, say, a hike or a meal, you may catch the work of an unknown artist your old friend or little cousin admires — and find that, after visiting the artist’s profile, you admire them, too.
ALL ARTS has always been a platform meant to bolster the work of artists through a supportive community that transcends genre, and the ALL ARTS Instagram is no different. Every week, we feature posts from creators in the digital space on our Instagram stories. And now, with the aim to foster our arts community, we’re talking with a new artist every week in our new series: Artists of Instagram.
Meet Bryant Portwood (@bryantportwoodart), a 25-year-old painter based in New York, New York.
He was a self-described “doodler” as a kid, but it wasn’t until he was halfway through his undergraduate degree that he decided to invest in an arts career, switching from financial economics to studio art. He went on to receive an MFA in painting and anatomy from the New York Academy of Art.
“While I have had a lot of great training from school, I think it is still important to strike a balance between being self-taught and learning from others,” Portwood says. “Even now that I am finished with my education, I try to learn something new every day. In order to make something unique that is truly your own, you have to experiment and break out of your comfort zone.”
We spoke to the artist about his pieces, his inspirations and what art means to him.
What does art mean to you? How does it fit in your story?
Art means everything to me. It gives me a sense of purpose, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. There is no greater feeling than that eureka moment when a creator comes up with an idea. After that, there can be peaks and valleys until the project is complete, but that original idea is such a rush. Visual art is the easiest way to communicate an idea. Granted, it is not always interpreted as intended, but that’s the beauty of it. Art is subjective.
As mentioned, I have been drawing since I was a little kid. It has always been a part of my story. At the time, I didn’t understand that this was a gift. I had assumed that everyone was creative and had the ability to transfer that to paper. As a result, I did not think that there was anything special about it, and I brushed it off for years. It wasn’t until I was older that I realized that this was a strength that not everyone had. As a result, I started practicing more and, to be honest, the practice is never going to end.
While being an artist is extremely stressful at times, I think that there is nothing more rewarding than creating something on your own. Each painting is a battle. While I plan in advance, I am still constantly changing things throughout the creation process. In some cases, it can be like a puzzle, where everything is done by trial-and-error until it all works in the end.
How would you describe the type of art that you create?
If I could describe my art with one word it would be “funky.” I am primarily an oil painter, and I work with a variety of subjects for fun, including live figure painting, movie stills and works from imagination. My personal work, however, usually combines mundane moments with imaginative elements.
My greatest strength is my use of color. By pushing the vibrancy in my palette, an escapist atmosphere is created where there is tension between the subject and the colors. While I would not classify my paintings as surreal, there is a dream-like, imaginative quality to them.
How has social media and the digital sphere helped you with your art career?
Social media has been a great tool to help get my art in front of a larger audience. During the pandemic, specifically, with the lack of physical exhibitions, I was still able to get my work seen by thousands of people. Admittedly, I do have mixed feelings about social media and its effects on art. While more people see it, people spend less time actually looking at it compared to an in-person viewing. Not to mention the negative effects social media can have on an individual’s self-esteem.
While I like to be open about my concerns, I think that it has been a great networking tool. Through social media, I have been able to expose myself to new artists and collectors who I try to keep in touch with on a regular basis. I also think that the online art community is absolutely incredible. People are supportive and are pretty open about sharing ideas and techniques. It is also amazing how movements and fundraisers can just take off with artists from all over the globe contributing.
How has the current global climate affected your art?
It depends on the definition of climate. I have always tried to be very socially-conscious. While my larger paintings tend to be more dreamlike and personal, I have been doing a lot of small works recently that are more direct. I have made multiple pandemic-related paintings, and I have been working to incorporate more subject diversity. I really do not like to be too political with my work, but I have forced myself to in order to do what is right. While I acknowledge that it is not always my place to say anything, I try to speak up or amplify the voices of others when it is appropriate.
As for the literal definition of global climate, I have been working on some concepts regarding climate change, but they have yet to fully develop. The ideas that I have are far different than anything I have done before, but I am enjoying the challenge that I have ahead of me.
How do you find inspiration?
My inspiration falls into the following three categories: storytelling, personal and trinket. I am constantly bombarded with visual imagery. I find inspiration in film, graphic novels and any storytelling medium. While some artists do not enjoy distractions, I prefer to have a movie or show playing in the background. Sometimes it can trigger a spontaneous thought that leads to a chain reaction that influences a painting.
The second category is personal. This is a combination of observation and memory. New York City is a great location for people-watching. I like to go for long walks or subway rides almost daily where I wait to see the right opportunity. I am usually looking for a quiet, normal moment that I then record. This category can also include past memories or experiences.
The third category is trinket inspiration. I have a bit of a geek collection including Funko Pops, lightsabers, gundam model kits, Halloween masks, and collectibles that I have started to use for studies to help practice my color theory. My collection has just started to surface in my work, and I am looking forward to including some of the items in larger paintings.
What other artists inspire you?
There are too many to count. I will say that the digital artist Sam Spratt was a huge influence in getting me back into art years ago. Some of the artists, from various eras and working in a wide range of mediums, that I like to look at are David Cheifetz, Lucian Freud, Jenny Saville, Chris Guest, Jorge Tabanera Redondo and Casey Weldon.
I have a list of close to two hundred artists that I am currently looking at for inspiration. This list can be misleading because of the variety. I look at different artists for different reasons. For example, I could only be looking at their use of color, linework or composition.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Top Image: Courtesy of Courtesy Bryant Portwood