Artist Series:
Brian Behnke

When I first set foot in City Art Gallery a few blocks from my house in the heart of San Francisco's Mission district, I had no idea I'd be transported into a spooky world of little boy zombies and tweaked out fairy tales.

After staring for what seemed like hours at canvas after canvas of a cartoony dead boy ("x"s for eyes) and his adventures I decided to put money where my gaping mouth was and bought a piece called "The Golden Banana Peel." Soon after I hung my first real piece of art on my studio apt's overly-white walls, I decided to find out more about these dead boy portraits and the artist responsible for me blowing most of my paycheck that week, arist Brian Behnke.

On his web site, I found his artistic mission statement:

Painting: It ain't rocket science.

Yes, I firmly believe that.

However, I also believe that the exact place where the development of ideas, subject matter, technique, and direction thrives is an unsolvable mystery. The unconscious string of creativity that runs from concept to idea to sketch to finished piece is as unique as each of us. So for the simplest purpose it boils down to our own visual fetishes. In order for a concept to grow into a finished piece it has to intrigue me to smirk or at least frown joyously. The question of what strikes each of our own creative fancies, what tickles and amuses each of us, and what we just think is plain fun to create is all tied to our individual path in life.

These inspirations seem to be rooted in my childhood fascination for all things dynamic and visual. When I was child I played with LEGOs and Lincoln Logs until I was thirteen. Man, how I miss those things! I watched Bugs Bunny every chance I got and still do today. I drew futuristic worlds with side view cut-outs of space ships. Building forts in my parent's basement was not uncommon. Running over snakes and frogs with the lawnmower became a sport. Drawing my sneakers often solved boredom. Oh yeah, my Webbles wobbled and they never fell down.

My artistic motivation is inspired by the work of such artists as Edward Hopper, Shag, Degas, Winslow Homer, Brad Holland, Yoshimoto Nara, Mark Ryden and anything created by the minds of children. Not only is it important for me to look at other artists' work but to also find inspiration and amusement in all forms of media and in as much of the world that surrounds me as possible.

I believe that the essence of an idea is more precious than the most valuable of metals. If creativity could be bottled and contained it would be more powerful than an atom bomb.

Like I said painting ain't rocket science, but to me it's just a big mystery.

Intrigued futher, I went ahead and picked Behnke's brain about his art and why a little dead boy haunts his canvas.

What is the origin of Dead Boy? Why a dead boy, and not a dead girl or a dead rabbit?
I think that the idea is basically out of the attraction of images that are both dark and cute, bad and good, the basic conflicts of choices that we all deal with. I guess that the mischief of Dead Boy came out of myself. Probably also the lack of emotion and expressions. But there is still emotion that is there. I am sure the reason why I choose a boy over a girl or an animal was simply that I connected with a boys childhood more than the others. The original idea was to have this character that could do whatever they wanted because they were already dead. Sort of a freedom with in the realm of living and dying. But he started to move more into causing trouble over time.

Where did you get your art training?
I went to school at Columbus College of Art for Illustration and Design. I am now trying to unlearn most of what I was taught with the intension to make more appealing art.

How old were you when you figured out that you were an artist?
I was creating stuff at an early age. But it was not until high school that I knew that is what I had a passion for.

Who influences your work?
Currently, people like Baseman, Biskup, Ryden, Nara, Hong are people I look up to. Basically because they make art that people of all types can relate to and they also apply their work to commericial projects. I think this is a great way to market your art and still be able to pay bills. Traditional painters that I admire are Degas, Homer, Hopper, and any early 20 century ashcan painters. I am more into traditional painting techniques than more abstract styles. I am a big fan of Burton, Gorey, Suess, Groening... I watch way too much Cartoon Network!

What artistic medium do you prefer to work with and why?
I use acrylics because of the simple fact they dry fast making it easy to layer paint in a timely manner. Since I have a big texture fetish this a big plus. When I go outside and do any landscape work it is all oil. I do play around with encaustics but I do not know how to use them in a traditional manner.

What does the future hold for Dead Boy?
Hopefully I will finally have a book idea and it will get published. From there I hope toys and what not follow. I have a licensing agent that I am working with so this could or could not happen.

The next series after Dead Boy that I've seen recently from you is all about deadly-but-cute Dust Bunnies. Can you explain what inspired you this time around?
The idea came partly from chasing them around on Sunday morning at my apartment and also partly from a story idea I have been working on concerning Dead Boy. I guess maybe a the bit with the carnivorous bunny in The Holy Grail was floating around in my head as well.

What makes these dusty bunnies different than normal dust bunnies?
The basic Dust Bunny idea was that they were carnivorous pranksters. Playful but deadly. I wanted to hint of their capabilities but not really show gore. Leave it to the viewer to make up the actual scene.

Where can people see your art?
I have work at City Art Gallery, Studio (San Francisco on Polk), La Luz de Jesus (LA), Sugar (San Francisco on Sutter), National Product (San Francisco on Market), Mmodern Gallery (Palm Springs) and Blue Bottle Gallery (Seattle).

Visit Brian Behnke's site here for more info on how to see and buy his amazing art!

All paintings copyright © Brian Behnke

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