Studio Visit: Brian M. Viveros
“You’re built like a car, you’ve got a hubcap diamond star halo, you’re dirty sweet and you’re my girl.” Credit T. Rex for singing what they mean and Brian M. Viveros for painting what he likes. No women tied to railroad tracks, waiting to be rescued. Like Robert Williams, Viveros extols an idealized female image to portray beauty and strength, with no apologies.
The following is an excerpt from the November issue of Juxtapoz. The issue is available in our webstore and on newsstands worldwide.
“You’re built like a car, you’ve got a hubcap diamond star halo, you’re dirty sweet and you’re my girl.” Credit T. Rex for singing what they mean and Brian M. Viveros for painting what he likes. No women tied to railroad tracks, waiting to be rescued. Like Robert Williams, Viveros extols an idealized female image to portray beauty and strength, with no apologies. (And he credits Mom and Dad!) On the eve of Viveros’s solo show, Matador, opening November 7, 2015 at Thinkspace Gallery, Greg Escalante talks to a real nice guy who just happens to have his own volunteer army. —Gwynned Vitello
Greg Escalante: Just wondering if you happened to see the Mad Max film?
Brian M. Viveros: I did, and holy DirtyLand Batman, what a ride from beginning to end! I was a little worried going in, because I'm a huge fan of Mad Max and The Road Warrior, but this movie takes it over-the-top and runs you right over. I was so inspired by the characters and the beautiful post-apocalyptic wasteland that I just had to draw my own Road Warrior girl when I got home. The power that women command in this film is intense and unyielding! What strength in this dirty beauty, and it doesn’t get any sexier and stronger than the main character Furiosa, with her shaved head, black war paint and metal robotic arm driving a monster big rig. All she needed was a cigarette.
Of course I thought of you, because of the female dominance. It's very rare for Hollywood to make movies showing empowered women, and scripts get shot down. How did this become a subject for you?
I've been drawing the female figure for as long as I can remember. I always had this vision, even as a child, of an army of women who were not typical girls prettily smiling in the usual pin-up poses. I wanted to create this anti-pin-up world of women who portrayed power and strength from the shoulders up and could tell a story with their eyes. I wanted to capture them in a moment of power and victory, as though just stepping off the battlefield standing tall. I decided to tell their stories using iconoclastic types and casting them in strong roles, so I started to develop the boxing girl, the matador, the lucha libre, Dia De Los Muertos girl, the army girl, all of these versions to play a part in this DirtyLand world I was creating. This vision of an army related to my childhood in some ways. My mother was a strong woman, so that has always played out. Memories of old black-and-white pics where the women would be smoking also resonated. There was something dirty and bad that I really liked, maybe that’s why I started smoking at an early age... haha! It soon became a signature trademark. Being bad was kind of good.
Tell us about the museum show in Switzerland with H.R. Giger, who designed the look of Alien.
That was 1996, my first ever exhibition. I was invited by Giger's agent and friend Les Barany to participate in this Erotic Museum exhibition, called Deep Inside, taking place in Lausanne. Back in those good old days, I was making intricate packages of work and sending them to magazines in hopes of getting published, only to receive a ton of rejection letters. I had come across Barany’s fax number—that’s right, fax number—in some underground art zine, and I sent him some images through this shitty fax machine. He called, and I was totally in shock when he said he thought I was very driven and possessed, and wanted to know if I'd like to be a part of the exhibition with Giger. It was a dream come true, and to find out that my pieces from that show had also sold in the end was really rad. That was an eye opener for me and solidified the validity of what I really wanted to do. My work then was nothing like it is today. In those dirty old days, my art was pretty naughty. I was still searching for my voice, but I knew that eventually I'd find my way. Around that same time, I was reading Juxtapoz when it first came out. I still have the issue with Ryden’s first cover. It was an exciting time for me, just to see what these artists were doing, and it made me want to work harder.
Giger has always been an artist I've loved and admired, ever since the Necronomicon book. I have to share that during my first solo exhibition in Switzerland, Giger invited my wife and me to spend the day with him at his house, which is ultimately the Alien ship, and I got to sit in that iconic Alien chair. We gave each other prints of our work, and it was truly unforgettable.
Where did it go from here? What happened next?
After that first solo show, I ended up returning to Switzerland to exhibit a few more times, and had my last show there in 2007, which is when things really started coming together. I painted the first DirtyLand piece with my signature helmet, and the museum bought it for their collection. That set the tone for my future work and for what I wanted to do, and the direction was getting much clearer. With this new energy and vision, I got away from the naughty-naughty and was bringing in the dirty-dirty. The smoking signature came together around this time and was going to be a visual trademark that some would love or hate. Polarizing as it would be, it was always going to be a part of me and my work.
I was anxious to start my next set of paintings for a solo show in NYC in 2009 at Paul Booth’s Last Rites Gallery. I put a lot into everything I do, and I really had something to share when I did that. Some of my favorite paintings were in that show, like the boxing girl painting Momma Said Knock You Out and my signature, skull-helmet, Day-of-the-Dead girl, Viva La Muerte. It was an amazing time to be in NYC, and to sell out my first big show in the States was a trip. 2010 was the first Desensitized project with my friend Dan Quintana at Copro Gallery. This was an amazing show with videos, installations and collab paintings. That same year, I had my first major LA solo show, The DirtyLand, at Thinkspace Gallery. I took over the whole space with DirtyTroop mannequins, and dirt inside the gallery while my films played. It was packed with such great energy, people dressed like my paintings and showing off their tattoos inspired by the work, which was really memorable. Since then, the army has been growing strong. It's been quite a ride and I just want to keep it going. My mind is a machine gun—too many ideas loaded in my head!
Read the full interview in our October, 2015 issue, available here.
Studio visit photographs by Birdman.