Glenn Brady Article
Growing up we have a fantastical vision of what we want our futures to look like. Plans to change the world, be important, make history: for us the sky's the limit. But as we get older life begins and there are no longer limitless opportunities, now it’s the real world. That is the subject you can find in Australian artist Glenn Brady’s work. In a seemingly abstract expressionist style, Brady captures everyday life both good, bad, ugly, and beautiful through extraordinary works of dynamic movement, vivid colors, and mesmerizing light. 

Brady was born and raised in a Brisbane suburb industrial estate. He left home early after his parents divorced in 1982 and he dropped out of school at 16. Moving out, he was caught within the hiatus between child and adulthood faced with a future he didn’t really want. He tried working jobs, but either hated it and quit or got fired for being stoned. As a young man heavily present in the drug community, the growing popularity of punk rock and new wave music became a refuge. He started a band and lived off a $50 per week dole in a house with 8 other people. He learned that pain is fuel, as well as anger, and that through punk rock, making noise and yelling at strangers was fun. Despite this noise however, he describes these times as truly existing within a void; still a kid, not a man, and barely living. 

Brady’s situations in life were never ideal, but they were real. In his art he never tried to romanticize his subjects; the rows of houses, power poles, factory sheds, and train lines he grew up around. People both happy and sad living out their existences, they were the truth. “I didn't want to try to strive for ultra deep artsy meanings.” Brady says. He saw depicting the everyday as an honest task, why shouldn't people see the real just as much as they see the ideal? “My times in and out of depression and psych wards is who I am… I don't like it, but to deny it would be a lie.” If anything this perspective has given Brady the voice he has today. Throughout his life he’s been beaten, jalied, in psych wards, experienced shock treatment, performed hundreds of punk rock gigs, witnessed people dying, drugs, and alcohol. His art is a reflection of the environment he's lived in, “you can be abstract, surreal, etc but in your own surroundings no matter where on earth you are… the ‘reason’ to create art is just as important.” To understand oneself and your place in the world is humbling, “I was nothing… a grain of sand… a nobody.” And yet it was from this position Brady was able to see the simplicity of the world around him and express it in extraordinary works of art. 

Brady’s work isn’t only special due to its subject matter, but also in execution. As a completely self taught artist Brady learned much of his technique through experimentation. “I would try things out and learn from it… Each painting gave me ideas for others… In the beginning it was very straight… not much movement so I started to use pastels over the acrylics to create lines and highlights… purple shadows… wind lines etc… And I had no one to impress so I had and still have a lot of freedom.” As an artist this is a unique position to be in. Without the watchful eye of a teacher there are no stylistic influences, similarly there is no set precedent for what is possible. While our teachers provide us with a perspective of experience, their biases can often limit discoveries made through exploration. For Brady this results in abstract works with dynamic movement, vibrant colors, and mesmerizing light. 

Brady’s isolation from the art world is another factor that can attest to his originality. In today's age of social media the art community can very easily become an echo chamber, repeating the same styles and practices. Once a new technique goes viral, thousands of artists flock to their studios and integrate it into their work. It’s a cycle that leaves little room for originality since a primary motivation for many is to get “big”. However, Brady experiences a certain level of immunity to this phenomenon, “I just paint and hope they sell… if they dont I won’t stop painting… in art, as in life I've never expected anything… so anything is a bonus”. He expresses confusion in observing other artists on Instagram. People want so badly to appear cool and hip to their audiences that they miss out on the inspirations right in front of them. “New York, Paris, London, Berlin are supposed to be the fabled art capitals of the world… well I think ‘fuck that’... life is where I am now.” While others seek out the latest cafe or hip bar, Brady finds himself with a beer at bus stops and in alleyways to observe the world and people there.

It is from these locations that Brady finds his greatest inspirations. Carrying around a sketchpad at all times, he has learned that anything is a painting waiting to happen. Over the past 20 years he’s filled 20 sketchbooks full of sketches and observations, which he goes back to and looks through everyday. When something pops out he begins building a painting in his head but never starts painting without knowing exactly what is going to happen. This could take 20 minutes or a week and doesn't always work out the way he initially plans. “I throw water, beer, spit, at the painting if it isnt working… I curse myself and think… ‘get to the point and stop fucking around.’'’ There's no pressure for him in making art, no rules to follow. “I can’t or don't care about ‘changing the art world’... those days are over for art.” That's not what art is for Brady, “I will do a painting in a theme I had 10 years ago because it makes me happy.”

Brady is not an overly happy person, he has to work at being happy. To him, painting is more than just a hobby, it's what keeps him alive. During hospital stays and while unwell it's something he hangs on to, “I’m not yet finished with what I want to say with my paintings.” Having already completed over 300 of those paintings, Brady hasn’t been able to paint as much. It's not a matter of choice, if he had it his way he’d be painting constantly and on giant canvases. However, painting is an art that requires massive amounts of space. With hundreds of canvases in your home it can be hard to justify making more, and for Brady, who feels the only reason he's still on earth is to paint, is even harder. An inability to participate in something that brings you joy can create contempt with the preventing factor. It’s a wicked cycle since in this case it is painting which creates joy and the paintings that prevent it. Despite this however Brady admits he does not dislike his paintings “as everytime I paint it is to do the best painting that I can.” Not doing so would be a failure to him, it is a defeat that leads to self loathing. So Brady continues to paint leaving not a single one undone or himself unhappy. For him it creates a buzz if only for a few hours, then it fades and he begins again.

Observing Brady’s work one finds themselves transported to a new world. Swirling lights and vivid fantastical colors are contrasted by exaggerated perspective and elongated figures. It is intoxicating to look at and Brady’s dream is to bring it to life. “20 years ago I had a dream to buy a block of land and build what I call the ‘the blue forest.’” In this forest there would be an acre of dead trees painted blue with pathways wrapping throughout. Among them are bushes full of blue and purple flowers. He would find people who would sculpt strange birds and other creatures to sit amongst it all. And in the center would be a fountain with mosaic tiles and benches so people could come and observe the blue. The sky full of fairy lights strung between the trees to light up the night, “a magical ‘blue’ place”. This scene sounds like the personification of Brady’s paintings, in pieces like Stars and Streetlights or Stars over the City you can imagine what it would feel to find yourself in this world. For Brady however, it would be more than replicating imagery from his paintings, it would be bringing into actuality the way he observes and depicts reality. Merging together the truth of his subjects and the abstract expression found in his paintings. 

Brady’s life has not been an easy one, but his struggles with drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and trauma have made him who he is today. His times in and out of hospitals and psychwards gave him a perspective of humility and appreciation for the everyday. His unique point of view allows him to create pieces that are real, depicting subjects not often portrayed in works seeking popularity. Authentic in both subject and style, with Brady’s own techniques developed purely through exploration, his works transport us to another world. A world both fantastical in its vibrant depiction and yet familiar to the reality in which we experience everyday. Brady’s work is unapologetically real, showing how life truly is; good, bad, ugly, and beautiful.
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