Published December 20th, 2022 by Blaine Garrett
We sit down for a conversation with the multidisciplinary artist to learn more about her time in the NYC creative community, the long road to her current artistic practice, and bringing joy to herself and others through her work.
There is this magic that happens every so often for me. I'll see a body of work for the first time that I just can't stop looking at. Then I'll have the pleasure of meeting the artist only to find out they have a fascinating story as well. It just makes the work that much more interesting for me. This was my experience recently at the opening night of Gamut Gallery's annual holiday salon, Raging Art On. Among all the wonderful work on display, a series of collages by artist Briana Auel really stuck out to me. The artist was present and we struck up great conversation about her work, her time in the New York design world, and her return to Minneapolis to pursue her artistic practice. Below is a followup Q & A we had. Enjoy.
Briana Auel is a designer, creative director and self-taught artist who found her way into fine art through her works painted on paper salvaged from NYC food delivery bags while living in Brooklyn. Frightened by the blank white canvas and the limits of perfectionism, this substrate offered her the freedom to create without concern of commitment. Briana affectionately named this early work “Takeout Trash.” The use of paper has since evolved from a mere substrate into hand-cut collage elements incorporated into her current mixed media abstract landscapes. These works are a distinct contrast to Briana’s large abstract paintings with a focus on the free-form application of color through emotion and fast movements.
Briana also works as a freelance creative director and has curated a distinctly unique career path as a self-taught designer with a business school background. Briana has collaborated with a number of high-profile clients in the music, film, fashion, and action sports industries in tandem to her ongoing freelance work as an art director within advertising and design agencies. Briana’s fine art practice takes cues from the world of graphic design where color, shape, and words meet. Briana is currently residing in Minneapolis, MN.
The Future, acrylic, latex, gouache, paper bag, tape, graphite, collage on canvas, 30 x 40", 2022
Blaine Garrett: How did you get your start in the visual arts?
Briana Auel: I took the long road to becoming a visual artist. I can attribute the very beginning of that journey to a marketing class I took while I was in undergrad at the Carlson School Of Management. I decided to make some advertisements as an extra for a class project. Everyone laughed when I presented them and my teacher asked me to stay after class. I totally thought I was in trouble for causing an uproar, but instead she told me that people come up with ideas like these for a living and that I should look into it as a career. I was sold. Art director I would become. Working in advertising opened me up to the world of design which eventually led me to fine art.
I got really lucky when I moved to NYC. I found an apartment in a loft building with a bunch of other creative types who I eventually forged friendships and client relationships with. Everyone was so supportive, especially a man named Chris Collicott who was a multi-disciplinary artist including being a product developer for Kikkerland. He was a mentor, friend, and father type to me—he and his writer partner Robert Neu both saw something in me that I did not. They were the first people who told me to establish a fine art practice. Chris and I made some art objects together, including a perpetual calendar. The real kick in the pants to paint came after I worked with director Steven Soderbergh. He is also a cinematographer, editor, collage artist, and painter. Seeing him work across so many mediums was very inspiring to witness and made me realize that I don’t have to be just one thing. He told me that my one and only job is to make things. So when we wrapped our project (I helped him launch a liquor brand among other projects), I decided to dive head first into fine art and got my first studio before ever really painting.
Scenes From a MN Summer No.3, acrylic, gouache, collage on paper, 14.75 x 11.75”, 2021
BG: What motivates your work? How does your background as a designer impact your practice?
BA: The process of creating is itself an inspiration to me because it is so meditative. There is a great quote by French Romantic writer Victor Hugo that really sums up what fine art is for me: “Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent." I started painting as a way to express emotions, to express what I could not verbalize. This is where my large abstract works come into play. Additionally, music plays a large role in my process and seeing other artists’ work that speaks to me is always motivating.
Design is all about making things that communicate a message while simultaneously being visually appealing. For instance, think about a wine bottle. Sometimes you buy a bottle simply because you like the art on the label. Like that, design allows me to connect with people to create things that speak to others and bring them some joy. I work hard to translate that into my conceptual artwork. Before I started painting, I dabbled in product design aka “art-like objects.” For example, I designed and constructed a three dimensional middle finger pillow. I used to have a guest room in my place in Brooklyn where I would host other creative types. Once I had a woman staying for whom I knew nothing about her backstory. Soon after she arrived she came out of the room in tears and told me she needed to talk to me about something…uh-oh. Luckily, it turns out they were tears of joy—the woman told me she had Multiple Sclerosis and belonged to a support group called “FU MS”. Their mascot was "the bird" and that middle finger pillow was the first thing she saw when she walked in the room. She told me the pillow represented comfort to her and that it made all the difference in the world to her as she was about to move back to TX to undergo treatment for her MS. Connecting with someone like that is very rewarding and a great motivator to make artwork.
Midnight Bloom, acrylic, latex, oil stick, krink ink, graphite, pastel on canvas, 48 x 36”, 2021
BG: There is a strong urge for artists to have a consistent, cohesive style, but you have several different styles that are very striking that seem to serve two separate purposes for you creatively.
BA: I am still very new to fine art so I guess a large part of the diversity is due to the fact that I am still exploring style, technique, and mediums. However, you are correct. My more abstract work is truly a form of emotional expression for me. There is generally no plan when I start one of these big paintings except for the color palette which I study on a smaller scale beforehand. However, my marks are purely emotive in the moment.
All of my early abstract work was painted on food delivery bags that I would carefully ply apart to make a substrate. Once I felt confident enough to move to canvas, I started tearing the paper bags up as collage elements to create abstract landscapes which represented the journey through life for me—the hoops we jump through, the hills we climb, and so on. The more geometric, precision based collage and mixed media work you are referring to as my "other style" leans heavily into my analytical design mind and actually came to fruition as a result of two bad accidents.
In October 2016 I fell backwards off the very top of a ladder in my art studio. The resulting traumatic brain injury greatly affected my vision and I had to relearn how to make my left and right eyes team again. A year later in November 2017, I was violently assaulted and I had to essentially become left handed for a couple years while I rehabbed the right side of my body. The right and left brain once again became a focus for me—you need two halves to make a whole—both the left and right brain are equally significant and are necessary to balance each other out. This is abstractly represented through my current collage and mixed media paintings. The use of paper bags is still present but now it is cut into perfect circles, painted, halved, then used as collage elements that make up these otherworldly landscapes on canvas and paper which are painstakingly perfectionist in their layout to create harmony and balance. It's a polar opposite of my emotive abstract paintings. Oddly enough I started painting my large abstract works to overcome my left-brained perfectionism and here I am back to it.
So the long and short: my large abstract work represents my right brained emotional self while the geometric landscapes and collages lean into my more analytic left brained art director self.
Twice, acrylic, gouache, latex, tape, paper on canvas, 10”x10”, 2022
BG: Having spent time in the New York art scene, what is surprising about the Twin Cities art scene?
BA: This is a tough question, I can really only speak to my experience in NYC because when I left MN in 2009 I was not in the art scene here, I was not an "artist" making “art” yet. When I moved back to Minneapolis I got a live/work loft in NE in hopes to immerse myself, but then Covid happened so I have been pretty isolated and only recently started to get involved in the art scene through my work with Gamut Gallery. I was also not technically in the "art scene" in NYC either—a scene yes—but not fully immersed in the “fine art” world. I really only truly started painting in 2016. However living in NYC was pivotal and truly the catalyst for me becoming an artist. The line between different mediums is blurred in NYC. Art is everywhere there, everyone you meet is some sort of creator—art, film, music, food, fashion, etc. so it is easy to find community there. It felt really inclusive in Brooklyn. I was heavily surrounded by the music scene and I was lucky to have some really cool personal design clients who I built relationships with. Through these relationships, I was able to leverage design into art, and vice versa such as the textile Illustration work I did with Snowboarder Danny Kass. I am seeing more of that sort of collaboration between commerce, art, and design here in the Twin Cities since I have been back, and I am very excited for what is ahead. I can report back in a few years when I truly have perspective!
BG: Do you have any advice for designers that want to pursue fine arts?
BA: Just got for it! It truly is a practice and the best way to make art is to just start—show up everyday and make something, even if it is only for personal consumption. As you hone your skills, you will become more confident in your output.
I took the leap and got a studio space in 2015 that I shared with a band and photographer (who I also collaborated with) named Anna Webber. Initially I was using the studio more for playing and writing music (I am also a singer, self taught guitar player) while I started to educate myself in fine art and what it even meant to “paint”. The good news was that I lived around the corner from an art supply store, (Artist & Craftsman on the Graham L stop In Williamsburg) which became my art school. I would go in there and ask questions about everything, everyday. I had no idea what I was doing! I really took advantage of having such an invaluable asset at my doorstep. So the moral of the story, move next to an art store!
I also think that volunteering with art organizations and/or finding clients in the fine art world to do design work for is a great way to learn from the behind the scenes activities. I have recently been helping out on occasion around Gamut Gallery when they need an extra hand. The gallery director, Cass Garner, has been super supportive of my art practice. I also got very lucky to forge a working relationship for a time with Jennifer Carvalho, co-founder and director of Carvalho Park NY, who offered me insight and practical business guidance in the fine art world as I first started painting. Both of these women I will forever be grateful for.
20/20 Vision, acrylic, latex, oil stick, graphite on canvas, 62 x 48”, 2020
BG: How can people see your work right now?
BA: I currently have a solo show at Haus Salon Northeast, curated by Cass Garner of Gamut Gallery. The show will be on view until 1/19/23 (lol, I cannot believe it is already 2023!). Folks can drop in to view the work anytime during business hours M-F at Haus NE (309 1st Ave NE, Minneapolis, MN 55413).
I am in the group show/holiday market Raging Art On! at Gamut Gallery (717 S 10th St, Minneapolis, MN 55404) that is up to see in person through 12/23/22 with selected works available online through 1/13/23.
Also, I have a dozen pieces up at a local advertising agency, Ciceron, where I am also their artist in residence. Studio and agency visits can be set up by request/appointment by contacting me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I also sell work directly through my instagram account @briana.auel and my website: brianaauel.com.
Glass Ceiling/Concrete Jungle, acrylic, gouache, paper, collage on canvas in vintage frame, 22”x18”, 2021
BG: Where do see your practice taking you in 2023?
BA: This year I am hoping to move my practice into one of the amazing artist buildings in the NE Arts District. My art studios have always been stand alone and not part of a complex that houses other visual artists so I think the best next step for me to continue to learn and grow as an emerging artist is to surround myself with a community of other like-minded individuals. I have also been really inspired by the people and artists that I have met this past year working with Gamut Gallery and I am looking forward to continuing to nurture these connections. In particular, I hope to find a way to collaborate with Derek Meier. I have been watching his work since moving back to MN and am stoked to have made that connection.
BG: Thanks for taking the time to talk more about your practice with MPLSART.
BA: Thank YOU! I appreciate your support and feel so honored to be asked to share a little about myself and my work. ◼︎
The artist at work on Rock and Roll, acrylic, latex, oil stick, nu pastel, colored pencil, graphite, 48 x 84”. Photo by Kelsy Osterman
Cover Image: Castile DT, acrylic, nu pastel, oil stick, krink ink, graphite, color pencil, collage on canvas, 54 x 44”, 2016
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