At first glance, Brian Nash‘s vibrant paintings are reminiscent of illustrations from popular children’s books, decorated with geometric shapes, bold colors and animated characters. But after careful inspection, they grow much more complex. Laced with clever text and a biting sense of humor, these works resonate strongly with adults. Drawing from the memories that colored his childhood summers in Cape Cod, Brian creates works, both playful and provocative, that speak to the kid at heart.
Brian hails from Boston and is proud to “have the accent to prove it.” After working for several years at an ad agency in Chicago, Brian, who has an MBA from Dartmouth, took a job as the director of retail and marketing at Ralph Lauren in New York City. When you speak to him, you wouldn’t suspect he has a lettered background as a high-profile businessman. He is soft, engaging, jovial and insightful, the attributes you might associate with someone like the Happy Tree painter, Bob Ross. Longing to expand his creative repertoire, Brian packed his bags and moved to Nashville to write country music. Though he recorded numerous songs for major labels, his songwriting took a backseat once he started painting; it was an instantaneous love affair.
His paintings caught the attention of art aficionados around the country. Some of his pieces landed in major hospitals and on the sets of TV shows, while others were purchased by individual collectors (like the creator of the hit show “The Simpsons,” and the director of children’s TV phenomenon, “Rugrats”) or placed in high-end galleries and restaurants around the country. It’s no coincidence that Brian’s paintings caught the eye of like-minded creatives. His work has a powerful immediacy, perhaps a residual effect of his experience in advertising. It also has a poignant, narrative quality. He has even developed characters that make recurring appearances in his work, like the wide-eyed black cat (featured above) who dons bizarre trappings, and LaLa, the clever rabbit who is the star of his weekly cartoon series for the Nashville publication 12th & Broad.
Repetition plays a large role in Brian’s work, giving his pieces the dreamlike dimension of a fantastical place where giant ice cream cones dance in succession. This level of absurdity is what makes Brian’s work so irresistible. He is not simply creating pretty patterns, but he is challenging his audience to notice subtleties and variations, to realize that there is no absolute way of looking at something. Brian has also acknowledged how much memory influences his process. His animated and playful images generate an acute nostalgia for the illustrated icons of a forgone era, like Woody Woodpecker and The Flintstones. He draws inspiration from all sorts of places, like magazine images, and even a simple conversation between two people can spur an idea for a painting. Ultimately, however, it is “making people smile that’s really the motive behind [his] paintings.”
Brian has yet to go a day without painting since he began. “I paint all through the day and into the night, generally not stopping until I go to bed, which is generally much later than it should be. I usually have at least three paintings going at once, and I work on whichever one strikes my mood.” He is an incredibly prolific artist, but he admits that he still feels the struggle of being a working artist in a creative city like Nashville. Yet he isn’t ready to surrender the brush. “I can’t imagine not painting. My dream is to be able to start a line of my own, selling things like pjs, stuffed animals, paper plates, etc., using my images.”
Brian’s diligence has certainly paid off. He was recently asked to have his first solo exhibition at Empty Spaces Gallery in Putnam, CT, which was a major success. His work can also be found at notable galleries around the country, including Studio Gallery in Grayton Beach, FL, Bluestone Fine Art Gallery in Philadelphia, and Chasen Galleries in Richmond, VA. Brian is also represented by Bennett Gallery and Art & Invention Gallery in Nashville, TN.