• UO Studio Visits: Will Bryant


    Portland artist Will Bryant has a penchant for positivity. With a boisterous style inspired by basketball, talking food, and pop culture at large, the prolific maker creates eye catching work that’s as clever as it is charming. We recently visited Will in his studio to see where all the action goes down. 
    Photos by Michael J. Spear


    Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background? 
    I was raised in small town in east Texas called Texarkana. I grew up in boy scouts, playing sports, and occasionally going hunting with my dad and brother. I mostly fell asleep in the duck blind after drinking a thermos full of hot chocolate. I received my BFA in graphic design at Mississippi State University where I started painting, illustrating, screen printing, and deejaying. I went there because my parents did and I grew up cheering for the Bulldogs. I thought that I would major in business, but the fear of numerous math classes and the charm of a dilapidated art building turned me towards graphic design.

    How did growing up in the South influence your work? Have you noticed any big changes in your output since moving to Portland? 
    I think there is a particular naiveté (some may call it ignorance) associated with the South that is present in my work. Perhaps it’s more aptly called Southern Charm. That charm or naiveté was challenged, poked, and prodded while in graduate school at Portland State University (2011-2013). Grad school in the Contemporary Studio Art program was one of the reasons my wife and I moved to Portland. This exposure to the academic art world and contemporary art scene has had the most significant influence on my work. Coming from a world of illustration and client work, that exposure was very challenging and added more layers to my work.


    How has your style evolved since you first started making? 
    My drawing style was pretty crude when I first started making stuff in undergrad—from letter forms to characters, there wasn’t much handling with line quality. It was pretty raw. Sometimes I wish I could draw like that, but it just doesn’t feel right anymore. I also used to do a lot of collage and watercolor paintings back then. I moved away from that because I either didn’t have the space to paint or got tired of boxes of supplies everywhere. Also, no one was paying me to make that type of work. Since then I think my tone has matured and my style has become more diverse. It’s more polished, but still naive and typically exuberant. 

    You really like Michael Jordan. Actually sports in general are a pretty consistent theme in your work. Did you play a lot of sports growing up? Do you still play often? How do sports inspire your creative output? 
    Before art or design I ONLY sported (past tense for playing sports). In high school I primarily played basketball and football. I played baseball as a kid until I got bored with it. I respect the sport and there's so much heritage and nostalgia with it, but it's slow. Now, let’s get to MJ. So much court style and dedication to the game. He had such an incredible influence on the game and popular culture in the '90s. Like most Jordan fan boys, I mimicked his every move. I still play basketball twice a week. I love the exercise, fellowship, the shoes, and the aesthetics of gyms. I’m also a huge college football fan.


    A lot of your work also seems to revolve around food—from anthropomorphic hot dogs to the promise of sandwiches after a hard days work. Are you a hungry guy? 
    I really love food. I love eating. I'm most often hungry and struggle with being hangry. With that said, I'm not a foodie that is aware of all the ingredients and pairings, but the aesthetics of food is fascinating to me. There are so many great shapes, textures, and colors found in food. They’re just begging to be personified or turned into patterns!


    What’s your daily routine like? Can you walk us through a day at the studio? 
    I start my mornings by rolling out of bed and swooping my daughter from her crib. We hug some stuffed animals together and then I change a stinky diaper. It’s quite the collision of high and low points. Since having a kiddo, my schedule has become even more scattered. Sometimes I hang around the house with the family, answer emails, let my wife shower, and then show up to the studio just in time for a lunch break. Other days I might get in really early to get a ton of work done before phone calls or meetings or emails get the best of my day. I probably spend the majority of my day trying, unsuccessfully, to keep myself from being distracted by things such as the internet. I try to get in several solid 3 hour work sessions throughout the day—sometimes that happens in the morning, the afternoon, or late at night when everyone is asleep. This summer I’ve been consistent about having family time from 5pm—8pm in which we go swimming, walk in the park, and cook together. After that, if I’m feeling lazy and there isn’t a pressing deadline, we stream our TV shows. If I’m swamped, I’ll stay up until midnight or 2am jamming on stuff. I’ve been so busy with client work this year I haven’t been making that much time for personal work. 

    Do you ever get stumped by a project? How do you get past creative roadblocks? 
    I do. I get stumped frequently in the beginning of projects; it's sometimes hard to get rolling on something. Not because of lack of interest in the project, but being human. Maybe I'm hungry. Or I have to go the bathroom. Or I all of sudden need I need to watch '90s NBA highlights on YouTube. Getting started is hard. After I’ve put something off as long as I can, I’ll make myself focus with a solid playlist in my headphones and do the work. In short, music or food. 

    How do you start a new piece? 
    Oh, dang. Procrastination is the crucial start to any piece for me. Most often I start with a stream of conscious list related to the theme or idea. Sometimes I do loose sketches on scrap paper or in a sketchbook—that goes for an illustration, a logo, a sculpture, or an exhibition strategy. For me, the best way to start is to create a problem to solve then respond and repeat. 


    Your drawings just burst with energy. Do you have a secret portfolio of sad and depressing work that you keep in a drawer somewhere? 
    I don't, but I did try to make sad work while I was in grad school. It felt terrible and looked terrible. I do think some pieces in recent years have a darker sense of humor that are kinda sad, but still mostly happy. I tend to call those pieces "art therapy."

    What’s been inspiring you lately? Is there anything you’re particularly stoked on?
    This month I got to see two different painting exhibitions in Portland that really got me pumped on art. My friend Ben Sanders has a show up at Carl & Sloan that is super tasty—bright colors, fun food, lots of depth/texture, and polished in commercialism. The other is a collection of abstract aboriginal Australian paintings put on by the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art in an abandoned warehouse. It’s buzzing with patterns and colors—so loose, but so intentional. Also, I am currently on vacation in Wyoming and it’s incredibly beautiful. It’s like an adult summer camp here! I’ve been fly fishing, white water rafting, riding in a hot air balloon near mountains, and soaking in a hot tub every night. Stoked on all that! And I’m always stoked on my daughter Polly. She’s such a goofball.


    Now, we don’t like to gossip, but we heard you hosted a monthly dance party in college dressed as a deer. (Seriously, someone told us this.) Can you confirm? What’s the deal? 
    Haha, that is partially true! My deejay moniker was "The Hooded Deer" and I wore costumes on stage at ridiculously themed dance parties that I organized. This was a very important creative outlet for me. Not only was it a way of making friends (Art & Social Practice, if you will), but a critical outlet for conveying personality through stage decor, costumes, merch, and promo material. It was such a cool time! It started out as house parties for 30 and 60 people then turned into 150 people dancing in the best dive bar in Starkville, MS. Eventually it became a full on stage production with legit sound systems, lighting, and projections for 900+ people in an old theatre in Columbus, MS. I’m thinking about the 22 foot tall skeleton made out of LED tubes with a laser coming out of its mouth that my crew installed for a Halloween show! Imagine Dan Deacon (Wham City) meets Richard Simmons meets Southern Hospitality. 

    What’s next for you? 
    Well, there’s a lot going on these days. I turn 30 next month. My new site, after many many delays, is now live. I’m currently considering artist representation for the first time in my career. I’m about to start a painting for my wife where I’m going to ripoff Matisse. After 4 amazing years in Portland we are moving back to Austin, TX to be closer to family (not an easy decision). So buying a house is currently on the radar—gulp. In short, lots of stressful grown up shit that young people who read this blog probably don’t care about, ha. 


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