ARTIST TO WATCH: BRIE UNDERHILL

ARTIST CHOICE: "THE WAY I FEEL INSIDE" BY THE ZOMBIES

This series is a regular feature of a selection of underground artists to watch in 2017

Brie Underhill, comic illustrator and Dallas native, weaves poetry, literary influence, and the influential dynamism of female friendship into her work. Her tender comics and illustrations speak their own private language, personifying a graceful acceptance of the balance between the existential experience of sadness and beauty. We had a few words about the inspiration behind her themes, her multifaceted talents and skills, and what 2017 holds for this artist.

Tell me a little about yourself, history, family. Are there generations of artists? Do you have any QT pets and how do you feel about baby panda bears?

My family is extremely important to me. I grew up in a pretty small town with a very small family, but the plus side was that my grandparents lived right down the street from me, whom had heavy influence on me as an artist. Both my father and grandfather are/were carpenters and gave me my first job in a creative field. My grandpa would make these little wooden sculptures for my sister and I to paint whenever we came over, so it’s safe to say that I had an artistically encouraging family. I live away from my family now so I’ve kind of started my own family here in Dallas by adopting my one eyed pup Junji. He’s the love of my life.

As for pandas, I absolutely adore their little squishy selves.

What draws you to hands? I can see the self-referential relation to being the source of the ability to create your work. The details of the hands, softness and sharpness of the face, hands, and shoulder blades are what stand out to me. “Soft Static, High Pitch Hum” is my favorite piece. 

Hands have always been exciting to me. There is so much emotion in hands. Hands create, destroy, communicate, heal, and hurt. People can read hands the way they read emotions on a face and that’s pretty extraordinary. My dad said something to my mom when I was younger that has stuck with me ever since, “you wouldn’t be able to talk if your hands were tied behind your back”. My mother is a very audacious woman when it comes to her speech. Her hands fly around, gestures make cursive in the air, you can read her story through her motions. To have your speech rendered useless because one can’t communicate sentiments with one’s hands is fascinating. The hands have a lot of power.

What’s your earliest recollection of drawing or expressing yourself creatively? Are you self-taught or from an educational background/formal training? Did you have any mentors?

My mom has drawings of mine from when I was about 3 years old. My parents have always been encouraging, so once I picked up a pencil I was starting art classes. I continued to focus on art my entire school career including college where I graduated with a BA in sculpture at The University of Dallas. But to be honest, the most important mentorship I experienced, was from my father and grandfather. Now that I’m living away from my family and my grandfather has passed, I am lucky enough to have found a new group of mentors: Olivia Cole, Lindsay Ellary, and Abby Bagby. These girls push me and give me a drive that I never thought I could have.

Speaking of female friendships, this is a regular theme with fellow artists Lindsay Ellary, Olivia Cole and your work. Would you consider them to be “muses”, and if not, what does inspire you?

The dialogue for my comics has various sources of inspiration. The inner turmoil bits come from my experiences or “torments”, but whenever there is a positive response or a loving glance from another character, those are definitely inspired by my girlfriends. I haven’t made as many landscape drawings as I used to, because those were often inspired by feelings of loneliness. I have such a powerhouse group of women around me now, that those feelings of solitude aren’t as prevalent. I have been trying to focus more on the beauty of sad situations and the prosperity of spirit that can come out of it. Women continually inspire me with their fortitude during times of that emotional distress.

Who were your literary inspirations growing up? I have read your blog and it’s obvious how influential, if not equally important, literature and poetry is to your visual artwork.

Growing up, Ray Bradbury was one of my biggest inspirations. His incredible talent for story telling always made me happy. His short stories gave me a ton of encouragement. He was able to put across such a strong message in only a few pages. THAT’S great writing. I wrote one of my first comics about him. I don’t know if I’ll ever read an author’s work that can compare.

What objects, spaces, and concepts inspire you? Tell me more about what you would do with installation work. What are your favorite materials to work with?

I find a ton of inspiration in old sci-fi movies. Some of these movies depict a symbiotic relationship between alien landscapes and the characters like a lot of my landscapes and installations. That has always been attractive to me. One day I would love to meld my comics with my installation work to better get that idea across.

In regards to installations, I have always been drawn to steel, yarn, and plaster. The differences in textures allow me to bring my drawings to life. When I’m working on illustration, my go to materials are .005 archival ink pens (i.e. Micron) and Pentel Paint brush pen. One of the most beautiful black colors you will see on a piece of paper.

Describe your creative process. What is the initial step in the process? As an artist, do you begin to doodle and the concept develops or do you have a concept and then begin to draw?

I feel like this is the most important question when asking about my work. I can work on a comic for months or years, it just depends. The actual drawing only takes me about a week, but the dialogue takes much longer to curate. This is because I write a sentence at a time, maybe just one a day. I have endless amounts of sketchbooks with single lines of dialogue all from different days and experiences. When I feel ready, I gather up all my sentences and mix them around like those little word magnets you put on your fridge. I never know the story the sentences are going to create when I first write them. I let them unfurl just like any real life situation. These sentences are often grammatically incorrect because I write by how a word sounds. I want the comics to help you feel something, not tell you what to feel. As an artist I think that’s one of the most important things I can do.  

I see that you have done a solo exhibit. Did you enjoy doing that, or was the pressure overwhelming? As a curator, it is refreshing when working with artists who have experience in curating their own shows. It’s similar to the idea of every human needing to work in the service industry once, every artist should curate a show at least once.

Solo shows are fabulous. The pressure is a good thing. It teaches you time management skills and resourcefulness. When you’re in a solo show, you learn to have faith in yourself and when it’s all over there is nothing that beats that feeling of accomplishment.

Your work has rhythm. You take the complex inner dialogue and convert it into a poetic back and forth making a single metaphorical point from a female experience. You express relatable feelings in an intimate backdrop. Elaborate on that and tell about any writing submissions you may have done/are doing outside of comic illustration.

Writing is one of my favorite things to do and until recently I was extremely embarrassed when anyone would read my stuff. Something clicked in my head in the last 2 years and I decided that my writings were and are important. I struggled with that for a while because in creative writings classes I didn’t get the best grades. My stuff is grammatically incorrect, the timing is weird, the sentences don’t mesh, and my teachers sure as hell didn’t get it. I like to think that the way I write is the same cadence as one’s internal monologue. I use these literary imperfections to my advantage by creating a flow in the reader’s head and hopefully helping them feel something rather than just presenting them with a story. I taught this “style” of writing to myself as a means of creating a language that everyone can understand without the constraints of typical grammar. The readers mind is free to feel what it wants.

What music are you currently listening to and what is the last song you played?

I have always been a sucker for doo wop music and Italian crooners, so I’ve been listening to a lot of that. The last song I listened to was “The Way I Feel Inside” by The Zombies.

What future projects are your working on?

I think everyone should fall in love with something and do it for the rest of your life. Art is my way of giving love.  I’ve started working on my graphic novel [goal to have it published by the time I am 30], as well as the largest and most intensive illustrations I have ever worked on. I am really excited about both. I can hear my carpal tunnel screaming my name.

THANK YOU BRIE.

Brie Underhill will be featured in the upcoming Girl Gaze show on January 21st in Fort Worth, TX. The art show/installation hybrid’s promotion poster was designed and sewn by hand by Brie.

Sarah Moore