A studio visit with Brian Adam Douglas

A couple weeks ago, VCS instructor Amy Wilson took her first-year foundation drawing class to visit the Brooklyn studio of artist Brian Adam Douglas. Here’s some information about Douglas that I’ve quoted directly from the “About” page on his web site.

Under the name Elbow Toe, Brooklyn based artist Brian Adam Douglas has been pasting his distinctive woodcuts, stencil work, large-scale charcoal drawings and collages onto the walls of cities all around the world throughout the past decade. His diverse practice is anchored by an interest in the human gesture as a powerful form of communication, one charged with unspoken narratives and he continually transforms public space into a stage for these private moments.

Douglas’ work has always drawn from myth, symbolism and poetry, something that has become particularly important in his most recent body of collage work. Just as he builds a finished image through the meticulous layering of tiny individual bits of coloured paper, so the meaning of the image is woven through layers of references to historically and culturally established narratives.

A shot of Douglas speaking to the students. One of his works can be seen on the wall next to him, and others are rolled up on the table in the foreground.

During the visit, Douglas described two separate but interrelated bodies of work: the art he makes for the street, and other works that are shown in a more traditional gallery setting. Though exhibited differently, the two bodies of work share a lot of thematic and visual elements. He also spoke about his time as a student at SVA, and the importance that portraiture, color theory, and the history of painting have all had on his work.

Although a lot of his street art features the same wheatpaste technique that’s been used to adhere hand bills and advertising posters to walls around the city for decades, the color and fine draftsmanship of his images sets them apart from ads and from a lot of other street art. During the studio visit, Douglas spoke about the process by which these images are made: They start as drawings or prints that are then photocopied very large and colored by hand before being taken out for placement in their final locations.

In discussing a series of works made for a solo show in the UK, Douglas offers the following information about his recent practice (quoted from the “Studio” page of his site):” The current body of work builds upon a process of art making that I have been refining for several years. I refer to the work as paper paintings rather than as collage. I see each piece of paper as a brushstroke rather than as a juxtaposed idea. Each brushstroke is selected for it’s color, value and texture, rather than it’s imagery.”

VCS student Berny Tan was there to document the visit, and she provided all of the images in this post.

Two of the students listen to Douglas speak. The piece behind them is a large printing block he uses to make some of his street art pieces.

Douglas holds up a print made from the block shown in the previous photo.

A detail of the same print.

Douglas discusses one of his images.

Two collages on display in Douglas's studio.

A closer view.

Another print; after being hand-colored, it will be ready for display.

A few of the students check out a small drawing that will be turned into a huge photocopy for outdoor display.

Note the grid lines; each shows a single panel of the enlarged photocopy.

Douglas holds up a copy of the upper right corner from the drawing shown in the last two photos.

Visual & Critical Studies