Todd Bienvenu is a Brooklyn-based painter. His work depicts muses such as late nights, bar scenes, and drinking buddies. Todd’s paintings are informed by a great knowledge of art history and pop culture, and infused with a dark witty sensibility. He is a featured artist at Life at Mars Gallery with a solo exhibition coming in September 2015.
Arte Fuse: When did you start making art and why painting?
Todd Bienvenu: I’ve always been a drawer. I was the artistic weirdo all through grade school. In college I tried architecture, played guitar, took photography, sculpture, etc. I have anxiety about public speaking or being on stage, didn’t feel like a storyteller, was too messy for architecture, could never write any good songs…It had to be a solitary studio practice based on visual representation. The first time I tried painting I knew it was my thing. There are artists who use paint in their practice and people who live and breathe painting. I’m a stone cold painter. The ideas I have come along through working. I don’t have a story to tell per se, I just have realizations about what the painting needs to push it further along.
AF: Your paintings often depict late nights, bar scenes, and personal relationships. Why is that important to you to represent in your art?
TB: The short answer is that it’s fun to paint. I like the colors and energy of a bar scene that happen in a painting. I want the work to have a bit of an edge. In the history of figure painting, it’s all been done. But the drinking and dick jokes aren’t the only things that happen in the paintings, I feel like I cast a wide net. If you get personal in the work it’s more likely to resonate in a universal way. My friends show up in the paintings, drinking buddy as muse. They all start as automatic drawing, abstract marks and then I see an image in the mess and it seeps up from the mud. I lay in some colors and start to see an ex-girlfriend peeing or a bearded buddy sitting at a bar so I let it happen and if I like looking at it, the image sticks around. A huge part of it is communicating my feelings; humor is a great way to deal with anxiety and fear. Also the lapsed Catholic thing, live your life, that plays some role in the imagery I’m sure.
AF: How has moving to New York from New Orleans influenced your work?
TB: I love New Orleans; it’s one of the great American cities. The culture, the food, the people. For years, I tried to stay away from the southern thing in my work, I didn’t see myself painting Louis Armstrong portraits or Cajuns hanging out under the Spanish moss, I was more interested in making art that felt like it was part of a larger conversation. I didn’t want to be regional. Dealing with imagery in the paintings means I’m constantly searching for subjects, interesting stuff to hang the paint on. The search often leads backwards and I think about where I come from, who I am. Time and distance opened up the possibility of southern themes in the work. That, and watching, True Detective. Having said that, I’ve been in NYC for 10+ years now, Brooklyn is home. I love the access to world-class art and artists you get here. I’ll see a great show and wish my work was better. New Orleans has a higher floor, lower ceiling.
AF: If you were to create a vacation series exploring the local scenes of a new destination, where would you like to travel to the most?
TB: No vacations, I’d miss my studio too much; maybe a warm weather residency to get out of the New York winter. Snow birding to New Orleans or somewhere on the Mediterranean would be fine by me. One summer I went to Provence and painted Cezanne’s mountain from his spot, I’d do that again. Beach scenes with bikini butts and daiquiris, no more puffy winter coats and dark bars!
AF: Currently you have work exhibited in Long Story Short at Trestle Gallery. Can you talk about the exhibition and the piece you have included?
Karin Bravin curated a show based on narrative in painting at Trestle, a non-profit in Gowanus. It’s a great group, beautiful space, I’m happy to be included. My painting depicts four people sitting in a booth at a bar, the table littered with dead soldiers, one of the guys is barfing green bile as the rest recoil in horror or delight. There’s a painting on the wall behind them depicting horse husbandry. A few years ago there was a drinking contest at this heavy metal bar in Brooklyn and I saw a funny picture of a friend of mine barfing as everyone laughs at him. That photo has driven a bunch of paintings for me. I was also probably looking at Rembrandt’s painting “The Conspiracy of Claudius Civilis”, and Eddie Martinez’s painting “The Feast”, along with Guston and Bonnard, photos of Guns n Roses boozing in LA, memories of the Commodore a bar near my old apartment.
AF: Recently one of your paintings was used for the album cover of the new Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell release. Can you discuss how that opportunity came about?
TB: I just got an email, Sam from Iron and Wine was interested in a painting he found on my website for the album he made with Ben from Band of Horses. I’m a fan, it was pretty easy to say yes, I wouldn’t have done it if the band that came calling had sucked. But, I didn’t go looking for it, I don’t do commissions or graphic design or whatever. The painting he chose has a bearded guy with a speech bubble like you would see in a comic book that has two hands cheersing beers in it. Perfect image for the record I think.
Next up I have a painting in The Guston Effect at Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston on May 15, some works at Steven Harvey Fine Arts in June, and my next solo at Life on Mars in September. I’m curating a show to coincide with Bushwick Open Studios as well.
Interview by Laura Mylott Manning