Interview by Alessandro Casagrande
Portrait & photography by Alessandro Casagrande
Images courtesy of Brian Lotti
Originally published in Issue No. 1
Alessandro Casagrande (AC) — Describe your path to becoming a painter.
Brian Lotti (BL) — As a child I was very interested in drawing and coloring things, and later on, I attended a Catholic high school in Las Vegas where the kids were pretty mean. I spent a lot of time in the art classroom, stealing away during lunch breaks. Ceramics and painting were my escape from the craziness of that school and I was able to deal with some heavy emotions there in that room. Art became a means for transforming awful feelings into a kind of peace and happiness. After high school I was spending a lot of time riding skateboards out and about in the built environment. Over time, my interest in skateboarding and the urban environment gave way to a newfound passion for photography and drawing and I discovered I had a certain knack for making landscape drawings. This opened the door to exploring the medium of oil painting, which I totally fell in love with. The smell of the paints and the linseed oil was entrancing, as was the fact that you could work the paint nearly continuously, like all night long. I was hooked. Then I decided to study painting and drawing at the university level and this led to encouragement from teachers and mentors and committing to practice painting on my own after graduating, which was also a critical step.
AC — Did you have an “aha” moment when you realized that you were going to focus on painting? What sparked that?
BL — In hindsight there were several “aha” moments where I’ve realized that the practice of painting is the road I want to keep travelling along. Life always gets in the way, it’s definitely been a a zig-zag path. There were times when I tried to give it up, or pursue something more “practical” or just got caught up in life stuff. There have been three or four times when I’ve consciously redoubled my commitment and returned to painting, for better and for worse (lol). Despite all the romantic notions of living the life of an artist, it’s a pretty gnarly pursuit, and there are absolutely no guarantees, especially as we get older. It’s an act of great faith, and a life that requires a lot of sacrifice to surrender to the demands necessary to maintain the practice. But on a recent note, the “Park Life” exhibition I had in Berlin this past spring was a great encouragement. I painted most of the work for this show in three months. People really enjoyed the work and the show did well. I felt a certain relief after this show, like “I can do this!” (haha).
AC — Do you have anything about your creative process that is unusual?
BL — Like I just mentioned, I do a lot of painting and drawing just to get my brain in the zone so I feel like I’m able to paint the way I’d like to paint ! At times this has just baffled me and felt ridiculous, though it has just felt necessary. Getting older and knowing more painters now I realize it’s not so strange. Musicians play their scales, right? It’s not so different for visual artists.
AC — Were there any particular influencers in your life, or peers that inspired you to start painting?
BL — My undergraduate painting and drawing professor, John Halaka, was very encouraging when I was first exploring the idea of becoming an artist. Later, a Zen Buddhist teacher named Robert Aitken was immensely instructive and encouraged me quite a bit, and then later the poets Gary Snyder and Steve Sanfield in particular were also very encouraging. I learned a lot about living the life of an artist from these guys who live and dwell in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Northern California. They understand and value the role of artists in society and were very supportive with me.
AC — What’s on the horizon? What can we expect to see for the rest of this year and moving forward?
BL — So far this year I feel I’ve made modest strides with the painting practice and have also gotten a little better at maintaining the business side of being an artist: organizing shows and selling the work. I realize I’m very lucky to be able to to do what I do. Hopefully I’ll be staging another solo show in Los Angeles or New York this fall or in the spring, and I really just want to continue to progress as a painter and feel more comfortable with a greater range of subjects. I’d love to start painting night scenes, and of course, more cityscapes with people.
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