A Conversation with Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman, a man of few words, prefers to let his work speak for itself. Each piece is created using mixed media such as paints, pencils, and crayons with a backdrop of music to inspire its inception. The forms Brian constructs in each piece embody the rhythm and tempo of his song choice while channeling the principles of graphic design he learned at The Art Institute of Charlotte, North Carolina. You may grasp the mood of Brian’s works upon first sight with their visible layers and varying brushstrokes; but if you experience viewer’s block, each subtle title gives clues as to what song was playing, what emotion Brian was channeling, or both when the pieces came to be.


You list music as one of your main sources of inspiration. Which comes first, the song choice or the idea for a piece?

Music is always playing before I start to create. I almost never have an idea for a painting before I begin; it’s in the moment of exploring.

What about music inspires you: the lyrics, the rhythm? What aspects of your work does the music propel: the specific brushstrokes, the overall feel?

All of the sound helps; rhythm, lyric, and tempo all have different influences while creating. For instance, tempo determines if my brushstrokes and pencil lines are aggressive or free flowing; lyrics head me into happiness or pain in the past or in the now; rhythm influences fragmented or sometimes more content geometric and organic forms within my work.

You describe your methods as “aggressive.” How long does one painting normally take?

Every creation has much emotion, energy, story, and life. The work takes as long as it has to for me to find a balance in my head and heart. Depending on the painting’s life it can have many layers or few, so it can take a day and night or many days and nights.

What is the reworking process like?

I say; parts of life are wounded, paired with the beautiful and the unknown. My creations are a reflection of the life we live or have lived. So, think about how and what you have lived so far in life, then lose and find yourself in that.

How does this translate to your creative process?

I’m constantly changing out materials in my hand such as pencils, wax oil crayons, paint, and ink. What I’m feeling at the time determines what material I use and how much of it; what to cover up and what to leave. It’s adapting to the situation or resisting, just as we do in life.

Have you ever tried painting or drawing without music? What happens?

Music has helped me celebrate, cry, hate, and love life. My creations would not be the truth that they are without playing alongside the music.

Can art be truly abstract?

Art can be what you want it to be.

You must have some idea of how you want your work to be interpreted.

I hope for viewers to connect with the passion, love, hurt, truth, and energy that exist within my creations – for them to see my painting for the first time coming from whatever kind of day they might have had and relate to a frustrated or flowing line, a content form or a fragmented form.

Where does your knowledge of graphic design come into play?

What I have learned as a designer continues to help with the technical parts [of painting] such as balance and color. I create many forms within my work, and balance always comes into play. For example, in my painting The Green, if you put your finger over the blue form at the bottom your eye goes straight to the black form; take your finger away and the two forms give you a sense of balance within the painting.


The Green 60x48

The Green (2015)


Tell us about your recent collaboration with Troubadour Clothing.

Lindsey [Carter], owner of Troubadour Clothing, became interested in one of my works, The Encounter (2014), a bold graphic form. She used the graphic on a recent top and skirt combo which was worn by Empire actress Taraji Henson while promoting the show.

How is the Charleston scene? How does it compare with your reception in Atlanta?

Charleston is beautiful, although overflowed with paintings of palm trees. The contemporary painting scene continues to grow and hopefully one day will overgrow the palm tree paintings. Atlanta is a large, design oriented, more contemporary kind of city. Overall I am pleased with my reception from The George Gallery in Charleston, South Carolina, and from Anne Irwin Fine Art in Atlanta, Georgia.

What is your biggest challenge as an artist?

It has been almost a year since I have become a full-time artist. The challenge is to keep it going.

Besides music, what else inspires you? Are you inspired by other artists?

Patrick Heron, Joan Miro, Willem de Kooning, Sander Steins, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Roger Hilton, and Afro Basaldella all stand out to me as influences. A few things that inspire me are chairs, architecture, textiles, interiors, and different cultural art forms. I became inspired by the Mola art form back in 2000 when I created one [piece] as a project in college. The designs are often inspired by modern graphics such as political posters, labels, pictures from books, and TV cartoons, as well as traditional themes from Kuna legends and culture.

What was the last book you read? The last movie you watched?

The last book I read was Painter as Critic by Patrick Heron. The last movie was Big Eyes.

In which era do you feel you belong?

I would like to experience them all. If I ever get to transport back in time I would be able to live it and tell you then.

Where do you imagine your pieces on display?

I want my creations to live in places where people relate to them and appreciate them.


Find more of Brian’s work here.

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 Images © Brian Coleman

Image titles (in order): Angels Among Us (2014), Shadows Of The Mess You Made (2015), Gray Blue (2015), I know what it means to be twisted (2014), The Way To Keep The World At Bay (2014), The Red, Beige and Blue (2014), High Above The Bridges, The Truth Is I Miss You (2014), Did I Say Too Much, Did I Say Enough (2014), Tonight The Stars And Fire Shine With A Red Handkerchief (2014), Violins Played So I Played (2014), Blue, Gray, Pink (2014), The Years You Left Behind (2014)

Featured image: Even Though The Moment Past Me By (2014)

Laura is a journalism student at George Mason University. She usually speaks in abbreviations. She has been told she "reads too much." If you don't recognize her, it's because she changed her hair color.