Interview with “Midpoint 2017” Artist Hugh Condrey Bryant

This is the second installment of the Midpoint 2017 artist interview series.

Hugh Condrey Bryant || Second Year M.F.A. Candidate || Exhibiting in MIDPOINT 2017 from March 29 through May 22, 2017 at The Stamp Gallery || University of Maryland, College Park || Interview by Sarah Schurman

Let’s start with some background: where are you from? What brought you to sculpture and the University of Maryland’s MFA program?

I’m originally from Greensboro, NC. I attended school at UNC Greensboro and received a BFA in art with a concentration in design as well as a BFA in theatrical set design. After that I did an internship at Franconia Sculpture Park in Shafer, MN and ended up staying there for 2 years as the sculpture park manager. I met a lot of artists from all over the world at Franconia, made a lot of connections. It was there that I met Dane Winkler who just recently graduated from the program last year. When I decided that grad school was something I wanted to do I contacted Dane to inquire about Maryland. I was very interested in what they had to offer so I applied. The program is primarily studio centric and focuses heavily on developing artistic practice and the conceptual aspects of one’s work. It was everything I was looking for. The access to studio facilities here is great and the faculty’s accessibility is very helpful. I find it to be an engaging environment that has really helped me come into my own as an artist.

In all three of your MIDPOINT works, you convey a fascination with traditionally “masculine” materials. How do these gendered mediums inform the meaning of your sculptures in this exhibition and your art in general?

Growing up, my father was sort of a jack of all trades. He had a lot of experience in many different fields of trade labor and construction. He was a mason, a carpenter, a metal worker, a crane rigger, and also worked within the field of nuclear power plant construction and maintenance during the late 80s and early 90s. From a young age he taught me many different techniques in masonry, carpentry, and later metal fabrication. He instilled in me a very strong sense of self efficacy and a mentality that I could build or make whatever I wanted. Learning these things from my father created a very strong bond between us. He taught me to appreciate the craftsmanship involved in skilled labor and to enjoy the accomplishment of a job well done. The fascination I have with these materials is very much associated with those early experiences.

My father is also a very loving, caring, and emotionally intelligent individual. So I also learned from him to move through life with grace and love, the importance of being in touch with one’s emotions, and of exercising kindness and compassion with others. I may not have known it at the time, but all of this would have a very profound affect on me later in life in regard to how I view masculinity.  For me being a man is not about physical strength and stoicism as many boys are taught from a young age. I am first and foremost a human being before I am a man. To me that means understanding that there is a  spectrum of ‘gender’ that can inform one’s identity. The designation of gender does not have to define how we behave or who we are as human beings. Masculinity, femininity, and everything outside and inbetween are a great part of human energy.

I associate all of the aforementioned with these materials. I see the traditional link of masculinity to the skilled labor involved with steel and concrete to be an antiquated sentiment. But it is that link that I find so interesting when it comes to applying my views regarding gender to the art I create with those materials. Skill and labor are genderless and the sculptures I produce are part of that belief. I use sculpture as a means to communicate through form and express the emotional aspects of my identity.

Tell us a little bit about your artistic process. Was it drastically different for the three pieces or similar?

Within my process and practice there are two distinctly different and oppositional creative impulses. One is the tendency to control material with a great intention toward the outcome, I generally apply this to steel. The other is to accept that I have no true or absolute control over the material and therefore I must respond to the outcome once I have executed a process. That is the impulse I attribute to the ways in which I cast concrete. The former is a very tedious and time consuming process while the latter is very quick and rooted in intuition. I associate that with the intuitive and with the unconscious to a certain degree, something that is latent and must be awakened or found. I associate the tedious and sometimes overcomplicated tendency in attempting to control the material absolutely to the overly rational parts of my mind. That tendency is obsessive at times and can even become irrational, which is kind of funny to me. I try to find a balance between the two but it doesn’t always work out that way, but I think that tension is what informs the physical tension of my sculptures. Sometimes a piece or even certain parts of a piece take a lot of time to work through, which was the case with A Constantly Persistent Moment (temporal portrait) and Of Ideals & Relics. Sometimes pieces happen at a rapid pace, taking very little time. This was the case with It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neurosis Will Go to Protect Itself, which only took a day to make. What is similar for all three sculptures is that each one is subject to both of these creative impulses to some degree, but I pushed myself to be decisive and intuitive in making and responding to the outcomes of all three.

What concepts inspired your titles: A Constantly Persistent Moment, Of Ideals & Relics, and It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go to Protect Itself?

All are inspired by the fluctuant nature of being. I make, respond, and contemplate.  The concepts I apply to all my work come from a place within my mind that relies on the intuitive and emotional, a place where I am illuminating the unconscious and studying the point at which the internal and external meet. All three sculptures are expressions from that place. Once something is done the title comes to me as I analyze what I’ve created.

All three works, particularly A Constantly Persistent Moment, convey the sense of being suspended in space. Does this choice juxtapose the concrete materials with their fragile positioning?

To an extent, yes. I like playing with tension. Accentuating weight and mass through tension is a process of play that I have always engaged in. The juxtaposition of these can create a interesting dialogue between sculptural forms and engage space more effectively, especially when intervening with the architecture of a space, such as the way that It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go To Protect Itself does with the columns of the gallery.

It’s Impressive How Far One’s Neuroses Will Go To Protect Itself seems to be situated in a defensive position. How does the smooth base, guarded by spikes, represent the mind?

The positioning, gesture, and tension represents the unconscious constraints, limitations, and protective tendencies that occur within systems of belief we form in the mind. The title is something a friend of mine said to me one time. We were discussing the cognitive dissonance and hypocrisy that some people exhibit between their behavior/actions, their desires/expectations from others, and the systems of belief they construct. The propensity to say one thing and do another. A product of that is a protective and defensive mechanism that serves primarily to preserve the ego and avoid the pitfalls of guilt and shame. While this unconscious practice can keep the mind free of negativities regarding one’s self perception it can also form a prison built of beliefs that hinders realizations about (and improvements to) the self and the potentials of one’s existence. So… the spikes could perhaps be representative of those mental defenses that surround vulnerability. The cables an expression of the limitations and bonds that those defenses place on the mind; therefore, limiting its ability to experience growth and transformation into higher states of perception regarding how the self affects and is affected by the external world.

Was color a consideration when making Of Ideals & Relics? In what ways does its smooth, touchable texture communicate meaning?

The color is intended to exhibit softness, a kind of sensitivity. The texture coincides with that intention. The meaning I attach to that is there is strength within vulnerability. To acknowledge and accept vulnerability is to be in touch with what one’s inner strength can overcome. When one doesn’t acknowledge vulnerability it can sometimes hold one back from experiencing true and genuine connections with others. To put yourself out there is tough, but it is one way to overcome or rise above the unrealistic societal ideals and expectations that have a hold on us all. Through the material characteristics of texture and color I hope that people are inclined to interact with it, to have a more intimate and tactile experience with it. The smooth and delicate appearance is juxtaposed with the mass of the concrete, the reality that it is concrete… When the realization of what it is made out of occurs the viewer’s perception of what is possible is shaken. In a sense, I wanna drop cosmic eggs of knowledge on people’s heads, blow their minds in regard to material possibilities.

How do your three sculptures interact in conversation with each other and MIDPOINT as a whole? Do you think your work complements or questions Bekí and Jessica’s respective pieces?

With each other… I think they speak to the flexibility and openness of my approach while also communicating the multifaceted nature of the concepts I’m playing with. The mind and one’s internal emotional world are complex places. I like to think that these sculptures ride a line that exhibits both complexity of thought and simplicity of form. I feel there is also a conversation involving a sense of temporality that can be embodied in form. Whether it be a kind of potential for action to occur, a sense of stasis, or even sense of immobility.

I feel that there is a form of aesthetic or maybe visual complement to Bekí and Jessica’s work. There is a bit more visual complexity and intricacies to their work whereas my work utilizes simpler lines and shapes. I feel it may be a middle ground between what they’ve produced.

Your contributions to the MIDPOINT exhibition exude a sense of tension. Through the contradictions you explore, are you commenting on universal human experience or isolated, personal moments?

I think there is a little bit of both. I’m using concepts that work universally or at least incorporate a common thread of consensus in human experience, but I’m also using a lot of my personal perception and experience. So I’d have to say that to some degree I am commenting on both.

What and where are your sources of inspiration? Do your influences extend beyond the art world?

Hmmm… My former professor, Andy Dunnill, was a huge influence on me. He passed away a little over a year ago and that also inspired me in certain ways, especially how I think about making art. It made me realize that what I make my work about should be deeply important to me. Andy’s work and his continued mentorship post-undergrad had a profound affect on me. Even his passing and his memory continue to affect my work. I plan to dedicate the work for my thesis exhibition to him.

My friend Jemila MacEwan has also been a huge inspiration, especially in the expansion of the scope of my work and how I think about it. She is a sort of muse to me in a way. Her friendship and generosity are constantly pushing me to be a better person and artist.

Outside of that I look at the world around me and I read a lot of science fiction. The imagery that my mind creates while reading is a huge inspiration and part of how I envision things I am interested in making. Reading sci-fi has given me a library of mental imagery that I often pull from.

How does teaching and collaborating with other artists shape your artistic vision?

Learning is a constant thing for me. When I teach I am also learning from my students and empathizing with the way they see and perceive the world through art. Collaboration is the same way. I think learning and keeping the mind flexible and plastic is important to responding to what you make and improving upon it. The more perspectives I’m exposed to the more likely I am to maintain a mental plasticity that allows for transformation and growth in my work and artistic vision.

Tell us about any current projects or future endeavors. How has pursuing your Masters impacted the trajectory of your artistic career?

I’m really focused on developing my thesis. I want to start now because I know I’ll need a lot of time to come to a decision about the scope and ambition I want to apply to it, how big I want to make it. I have time though.

Besides thesis I’m going to participate in an arthouse residency this summer in upstate NY. I’ll be building housing+studio space for the artists that come to participate in residencies there. It’s always nice to build or make something that doesn’t have to do with my thesis work so that will be a nice distraction.

As for my Masters and how that has impacted my trajectory… I know now for certain that I want to teach. That gives me a lot of direction as to what my next steps might be and where they may lead me. I think teaching will also provide me with a means to keep pursuing my own work. If I can teach and still make art then I’m set. The future has a way of not conforming to expectations though so I try not to think too far ahead. Helps me a avoid unnecessary disappointment.

What do you hope visitors take away from MIDPOINT 2017?

I hope my work provokes inquiry and makes them ask questions. I like to ask questions or provoke people to ask their own. I’m not really interested in the answers though. As long as the work sticks in the viewer’s mind for awhile and causes them to contemplate possibilities. That’s the best I can hope for.

Bryant’s work is included in MIDPOINT 2017 in The Stamp Gallery of the University of Maryland, College Park, from March 29 through May 22, 2017

For more information on Bryant, visit http://hughcondreybryant.com

For more information on MIDPOINT 2017 and related events, visit thestamp.umd.edu/stamp_gallery.

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