Adapting Our Environments
“If you don’t really do it, you’re just imagining, you’re just watching a movie in your head – like maybe I would do it like this, or maybe it would be like that – but you don’t really know. You’ll never see how you’d really react unless you actually do it.”
Interview & Introduction by Lee Nentwig
Photographs by Nick Parish
Brandon Sine’s inspirations pull from all corners of his environment. In an instinctual creative approach, Sines integrates elements from the diverse aspects which he encounters in day-to-day life and redefines their significance through his own unique perspective. His methods coordinate with the cycle of growth which shapes each and every one of us. Life is a cohesive exchange with our surroundings, the places we find ourselves in shape us into the characters we become. While such places or circumstances may seem grim today, we often come to understand their vital significance tomorrow. No matter where we are and what we experience, there is always the potential to transform our views and find new meaning.
In another interview you said something that really struck me, you said that art is not really a choice, it’s something that you have to do. It’s interesting because, in comparison to most others, you were a bit of a later bloomer when it came to your decision to take on work as an artist. So was there a particular instance in your life where you were confronted in face with this instinctual need?
These days, as I’ve gotten the ball rolling, it’s just this competitive thing within myself to produce. But I realized earlier on that I wanted to be successful and in order to do that you’ve got to work super hard. Knowing myself, I can’t work that hard on something unless I really care about it. It’s a challenge for me to work for someone else, like a traditional kind of job, because I just don’t care, it’s not something that really means something to me. And that’s a bummer because it’s like why kill yourself over it? So I just had to figure out what I wanted to do, which was something creative, and then see how people would respond to it. That was my way to find success, to get what I really wanted.
So you didn’t go to school for an art education, you weren’t really trained, in the traditional sense, for the vocation. What were the advantages of finding your own way to do this?
I think there are so many advantages. I know a lot of people that went to art school, and I don’t want to speak for them because I’m sure it’s probably good for certain things, I’m sure it’s great for learning technique, but I think that whether it’s art, sales, marketing, or whatever, the best way to really learn is to do it. Especially these days where the world’s changing so fast and there’s always new things – I’m drawing on an iPad with my finger now, not exclusively, but it’s just a fun thing to do. But if you’re in school you’re not going to – maybe you will learn this stuff, I don’t really know what courses are out there these days – but I feel like the best way to learn anything is to just do it, man. While they’re in school and doing their homework, you’re really doing it. Even if you don’t succeed at it right away, you’re still making contacts while you’re at it, and you’re really figuring it out… it just makes sense.
Let’s talk about the character Frank Ape? Where does he come from? What are the similarities and differences between you and Frank?
Well, I thought him up one day just to throw him in a painting, he wasn’t really a character that I planned on repeating with through my work. I just wanted to have this very primal guy living in a really rough setting. Then, I was inspired to put him up in a couple other paintings and people started really diggin’ it and it turned into this thing where he had to have a name. The first name that came to my mind was Frank because it felt pretty subtle and universal, which was what the whole thing was about. It just took off from there. It was all pretty organic, he wasn’t supposed to be a major, pop culture character.
I’m actually looking at the fridge right now because I have this article under a magnet up there about an old cookie-cutter. I put it on my fridge because it reminded me of Frank. There’s a part that I highlighted, it says: “…it’s so minimalist, which makes it more universal. It’s not a real person, it’s not telling you exactly what it is, so it reflects the experience of living. It’s open to interpretation.” I thought that was pretty cool. There’s a picture of this cookie-cutter that looks kind of like a person, but kind of like Frank’s shape. It think that’s a pretty cool way to describe Frank, he’s a blank slate.
As for the differences between the two of us – there probably aren’t very many. Frank is sort of an idealized side of myself. But I don’t want people to see him as me in their face, it’s more so about them. I want people to see Frank and to see themselves in him.
You (and Frank) have a sort of fixation with pop culture and celebrity, or at least it’s something that shows up in your work. What are your thoughts on these things? Is “pop” a dangerous word to you? Or is it just a perspective you take from the environment you find yourself in?
I wouldn’t say I’m criticizing it, it’s kind of the opposite, I’m digging it up. It’s just stupid stuff – like how everybody loves to use the word “ratchet” these days. I think all of it’s awesome. As someone just trying to place this character in new settings it’s just a matter of what’s immediately in my face all of the time, it’s a natural place. The pop culture world – it’s crazy, but it’s the most fun.
So it’s not something that you attribute much value to? In your case, you’ve now sold art to buyers across the world and some very notable names, but you don’t have to define your success on that sort of recognition.
Whether they’re a celebrity or not, it’s cool that people buy your work. And yeah, it is really awesome when people you’ve heard of buy your work. It’s also reassuring when these people are looked to as tastemakers by others, it’s almost like a validation, and it’s great. But selling works to anyone is exciting. Any time anyone wants to spend money for your art, that’s a huge honor. I definitely don’t measure my success based on who is buying the work, or having celebrities buy my work. I just think that if you are doing something that you feel and it’s reaching people, that’s success.
Say it didn’t crossover well at all, you didn’t sell to anyone. Would you feel successful? Would you even be doing it?
It’s a good question and I guess I would probably be doing it in a different way, I would probably have to keep doing it on the side, but maybe I would not be investing so much into. Because if it’s not paying off and no one’s responding to it, it is tough to keep going with something like that – you have to invest a lot into your career if you want to take it to the next level and get on people’s radars. So yeah, if I wasn’t finding that validation I probably wouldn’t be doing it, honestly.
In talking about your past, it hasn’t been a straight path. You’ve had your share of troubles growing up. And it’s something that we all grow through in some way or another.
Yeah, we all make our choices, but I wouldn’t want some of the choices I’ve made to define me.
What value do those mistakes bring to your life, though? In order to find yourself in art, and as a human being, do you see these mistakes as necessary? How does it all translate? Not only into your art, but into you as a human being.
I guess it’s just testing the limits. When you’re at a young age, you test the limits until you really start to develop your own perception of what a young man should be doing, of how you should be living your life, of what it actually means to be successful, and what it means to be real. You start looking around for examples and then you start to make your choices.
For me it always felt like – fuck, I want to be hard – or whatever it was, I’m not sure. You’re a teenager, all those hormones are rushing through you and stuff like that, but then you eventually get to the point where all of that shit gets out of system and you realize you can take difference paths. All of the sudden shit gets really real and you have to ask yourself what you want to be real life. It’s almost like you have to do all that shit to develop your own moral compass and know where you are. If you don’t really do it, you’re just imagining, you’re just watching a movie in your head – like maybe I would do it like this, or maybe it would be like that – but you don’t really know. You’ll never see how you’d really react unless you actually do it. I guess maybe that’s what it was.
It’s all part of measuring yourself up.
Exactly, it’s about figuring out who you are. I think many people don’t know who they are even when they’re grown-ass adults. I’m still just beginning to figure it out. It’s a hard thing to do and so maybe you have to make some mistakes sometimes to really figure out who you are.
“I find now with Frank, he’s a chameleon. He finds himself in all these different situations and it’s funny to connect those dots. So I guess Frank really is me, because he’s a little bit of everything.”
And then in turn, how does that experience reflect through your art?
Well I guess it’s just a little bit of everything. We could talk about all the crazy bad or the good, I’ve been in all these different kind of environments. Once, when I was a little kid, my best friend’s mom said I was like a chameleon and I was real insulted. I felt like that was a really weird thing to say about me, but my friend tried to tell me it was actually a good thing.
I find now with Frank, he’s a chameleon. He finds himself in all these different situations and it’s funny to connect those dots. So I guess Frank really is me, because he’s a little bit of everything.
Like you were saying about pop culture, it’s all fluid, it’s all relative, it’s all part of being young and finding ourselves in these environments…
Yeah, not to get to deep into it, but it’s sort of existential, we’re all connected to this energy and it’s almost like the energy is a one big Tumblr or something (laughs).
For more on Brandon Sines head over to his official website and check out his Dealing with Things is Tricky show beginning May 3rd at Specials on C in NYC.