Claybeast: An Interview with Brian Somerville
UNDERSTANDING AN ARTIST'S STRUGGLE WITH SELF-DOUBT,
EVALUATING THE WORTH OF SACRIFICES,
AND THE FEAR OF FAILURE.
There are several established artists out there, many publications and websites covering such artists, and tons of followers and fans who already know of these artists. It got me thinking. What about the hidden gems? What about the artists who deserve more exposure? Wouldn’t the ones who appreciate 'macabre' and gothic art want to know about them too? With those thoughts in mind, I put forth a call out for artists on social media and received several striking submissions.
Brian Somerville of Claybeast and his creations in particular immediately caught my eye. Upon viewing his sculptures, ancient stories about mythical and powerful beasts came to mind. Most significantly and what fascinates me the most is how Brian’s creatures exude certain qualities about them which convey omnipotence and vulnerability at the same time. Brian’s ‘beasts’ do not constitute human biological forms and yet there is something oddly human-like about them. Symbolizing various aspects of humanity and the ‘beast’ within each and every one of us, Brian’s sculptures are not as strange or as distant from reality as one may be prone to initially perceive.
On that note, I present our second "Hidden Gems of the Macabre Art World" feature.
Balancing my time between making sculpture and participating in the practical realities of life has always been my biggest challenge and probably always will be. Art is an insane and selfish way to make a living. It is also absolutely necessary to our society and my own sanity.
People might be surprised to learn that I constantly doubt my own work. I over analyze every aspect of my work and sometimes even question if I should be making art at all. Between friends, colleagues and family, I have an incredible support system that keeps me going.
My artistic process always starts with an idea. I get inspired or pissed off by something happening in the world or my own life and that feeling evolves into the concept for a sculpture. I sketch out new ideas over and over again before I sculpt anything. Creating most of my work is costly in time and treasure and I have to make sure I’m really into it before I commit to a new piece. Once I decide on the “what” and “why”, only then do I move into the “how.” Most of my early work is predominantly ceramic, but newer work varies depending on the idea. Ideas that continue in ceramic are typically build solid on armatures, cut up, hollowed out, reassembled and carved by hand before firing. Ideas that involve alternative materials typically involve metal work, woodworking, molds, foam carving, fiberglass and sculpting epoxies.
My favorite and most inspirational place where I live is my own backyard. My wife and I have three young boys. Between a growing amusement park of pirate ships and playhouses that we’ve built and the new ideas my kids come up with, there is never a shortage of inspiration. Outside our little world, the next best place is nearby Nashville, TN. The art community in our city seems to grow everyday and produces some incredible artists and artwork. Institutions like OZ Arts, Cheekwood and a never ending list of galleries present new and challenging artwork on a monthly basis. New murals, collectives, pop-up shows and community arts programming keeps things fresh and offer endless opportunities for the arts to thrive.
I’ve found that the most successful artists have enough ego to ensure that their ideas get taken seriously, while remaining humble enough to work well with others and recognize constructive criticism that can be helpful.
One day I overheard an artist tell a client that they could give them a good job, a cheap job or a fast job, but they would have to pick two. People always expect all three, but it’s impossible.
When I think of, ‘the artist’s ego,’ I think of a survival mechanism. I’ve run into artists, curators and collectors with inflated egos. Whether they’ve earned the right to be difficult or they’re just compensating for something, it can be hard to be tolerate. That being said, to live as a professional creative takes a certain kind of self-confidence. Constantly putting yourself and your ideas out in the world for public scrutiny is tough. Ignoring all the voices that tell you to “be normal” and surviving constant rejections can be exhausting sometimes. I’ve found that the most successful artists have enough ego to ensure that their ideas get taken seriously, while remaining humble enough to work well with others and recognize constructive criticism that can be helpful.
I think I’ve covered this one already. It’s a high risk/high reward way to make a living. The tough times are a challenge, but the good times are golden.
I’m not sure if there is a growing interest in macabre art or just recognition of the interest that has always been there. History is full of important artwork that could be considered macabre. There is a kind of primal curiosity we have always had with artwork that leans towards the dark and disturbing. I do think there is a growing interest in the pop-surreal and lowbrow art movement, which often includes macabre art. Since the internet, it seems like highly conceptual art is losing out to interesting images and video.
I always have plans for new artwork! For the past 10 years I’ve taken on a variety of commissions and commercial work. These adventures have allowed me to support my family while being creative, introduced me to new materials and given me the experience of working on a large-scale. These projects have also subsidized my personal work and given me space to make whatever I want with little concern for popularity of sell-ability.
My intention for new work is to combine these two worlds. I’ve got a sketchbook full of ideas that combine the scale and materials of my commissions with the concepts and details of my personal work. I have lot of “irons in the fire” right now. If only one comes through, I’ll be off and running with some exciting new work. If they all fall flat, I’ll just redirect and keep going.
“Bigfoot,” makes me think, “New Piece?’. My work has always had elements of fantasy and mythology in it. I’ve always tried to create interesting narratives with dynamic characters. Using beasts and monsters to represent parts of our humanity lets me explore ideas that might otherwise be uncomfortable. I don’t actually have any new work planned that includes a Bigfoot….but werewolves are a possibility.
If I knew no one was judging or watching, I would probably spend more time on the design phase of my work. I realize that thinking about my work is an important part of the process, but I often feel a lingering sense of guilt when I’m just thinking and not working. I don’t allow myself much downtime and my work would probably improve if I did.
What scares me the most is being a failure. At 36 years old, I know artists my age that are successful, some that are really struggling and many that gave up a long time ago. My family and I have sacrificed a lot for the sake of my work and continue to do so. I don’t feel like I’m working to my artistic potential yet and I hope the stars align so I can continue to grow and make new work. What truly terrifies me is the idea of reaching some kind of higher goal and realizing that some of those sacrifices weren’t worth it. In this way, I don’t think art is any different than any other job or profession. I think the key is to constantly reevaluate work vs. life and not ever be afraid to change directions.
I would agree there is a thin line between insanity and creativity in some cases. I also think that thin line can be blurry and hard to see when you are the one dancing around it. When I really get consumed in my work, my wife has often been burdened with the unfair task of pulling me back into practical reality. I would also argue that leading a life different from the mainstream does not automatically qualify as insanity. Being awake to the world around you and ignoring society’s parameters of “normal” can make you an outsider that appears to be “crazy.” This doesn’t mean that you are chemically imbalanced. It just means you don’t need the approval of others to be content and happy in your life.
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