Talking New York, Social Realism, and Singing Cops with Bryce Wymer

July 10, 2017

Brooklyn based visual artist Bryce Wymer is in a continual state of change. Always in-flux with new mediums, styles and techniques, he believes that experimentation is the key to artistic exploration. Inspired by comics, the absurdity of living in New York, and traditional Art History, Wymer is constantly applying his own visual language to the page. Sketchbooks make the perfect vessel for his ever-shifting approach and while his methods might change, Wymer’s unique illustrative style remains a constant.

Recurrent concepts are apart of a larger world that he’s manifested for himself. Flipping through dozens of sketchbooks, you can see patterns of subjects that he visits over and over again. Wymer tends to gravitate towards the unassuming and usually overlooked: large crowd portraits (typically from the perspective of behind), city-scape drawings with superimposed with abstract forms of color, and cross-sections of both the human form and the natural world all consume his portfolio. Executed in his distinct playful aesthetic, each page is carefully constructed and composed in both color and design.

We recently swung by his Brooklyn studio to get a peek into his process, talk about his artistic evolution and what it takes to be an artist in New York. Take a look at our interview below and be sure to check out his most recent project and riso zine release, Phalanx/Bloom here.

Lets start with the basics: what things would you say Inspire you? Music? Art Movements? Places?
BW: Growing up I was firmly planted in the underground DIY Punk/hardcore music scene. A majority of the visuals aesthetics of this movement were grounded in a minimalist use of color and a healthy sampling from some of the early 20th century Dadaist collage artists. I have found that over the years the financial restrictions from that scene have instilled a limited palette approach to most of my current works. I think it also instilled a trim the fat and get to what matters approach to my work.

Although punk was where my ear for music began. I have grown to love and play bass guitar and percussion with numerous bands over the years spanning from modern Jazz outfits to Garage rock bands.

Art Movements?
I have always been very interested in the power of the Social Realism movement. There was a bold strength that some of them had that really brought human social progression into the forefront of image making. Artists like Ben Shahn, Jacob Lawrence, Thomas Hart Benton. I have also always been amazed by the works of Käthe Kollwitz, although she is more typically associated with the expressionist movement.

New York is by far the most fascinating and inspiring place I have lived thus far. There is a realness to the kind of people that choose to live in this city. It's been over ten years since I officially moved here and my eye only wanders occasionally. Maybe New Orleans one day.

Not to sound morbid but you seem to have a fascination with dismemberment, specifically hands. What is it about the human body that just begs to be broken up?
When I was younger I was commissioned to do anatomical illustrations for numerous physicians around town. I would go to the labs where they kept the cadavers and develop rough sketches based on what the doctors were working on. I was amazed at the art of simplifying and breaking down the body for the ease of informing the viewer. That idea of isolation and inspection has stayed with me over the years.

My fascination with hands as visual storytellers goes all the way back to the Social Realist painters that I grew up studying. There is something about hands that have a way of conveying mood and structure without the need to be attached to a specific individual.

You seem to oscillate between a multitude of styles, varying from completely flat and graphic to more detailed and hyper-realistic. Why do you think constant experimentation is important?
Constant experimentation with various media has always been key in my artworks. But the overall volumetric figurative style very much stays the same. In the last few years or so I have been working in two very distinct ways: The graphic works are handled almost like sculpting, in that broad sweeps of color are laid down and then the figure or objects are carved out of the mass with white line. The more rendered works lend themselves to an additive approach where it's as if i'm wrapping the form with thin ropes. I guess in its own way it is like sculpting as well.

New York is a hot bed of inspiration, what is the weirdest or strangest thing you saw lately?
Well there have been plenty of things lately. But my favorite story happened when I was in my early twenties and living in a youth hostel in Chelsea. I had always wanted to live in NY and I finally landed an internship for the summer. I was walking around Mid-town and I saw 6 cops ahead of me on the sidewalk. Where I grew up we had a pretty abusive police department, and admittedly my friends and I weren't angels either. Naturally we had a few unfriendly run-ins with the cops and even to this day I feel a knee-jerk fear whenever I see them. Regardless, as I got closer I hear this beautiful singing in the air. They must have been a part of an acapella group because they were practicing 4 and 5 part harmonies. This blew my mind at the time. When I got back to all my friends I told them we all have to move to NY, the cops actually sing in the streets.

What is it about the format of a sketchbook that draws you in? (pardon the pun) You have so many and seem to be constantly adding, what is it about the book that makes it so perfect for your work?
The sketchbook as a portable object physically lends itself to exploration. I consider them an extension of my physical painting studio. Basically they are a place where anything can and should happen. I typically have two different sized sketchbooks going at all times, and I finish about 4 books a year. About 1/3 of work explored in the sketchbooks moves on to live as a larger works of art.

Besides the super cool risograph zine you just put out, anything fun on the horizon?
The next couple months are going to be pretty busy. I'm working on some new large scale paintings for a show at My Allée in Seoul, Korea, and my friends and I are currently working on a pop-up art show in SoHo in late September. I'm developing an interactive animated installation for the show. Should be interesting.

All photos courtesy of Jessica Ross