Those who saw Adrien Brody’s exhibition Hot Dogs, Hamburgs and Handguns at this year’s Art Basel Miami might have assumed it was a curiosity or anomaly. After all, Brody was rather quiet about his co-exhibition with friend Domingo Zapata, instead of courting headlines like fellow artist-actors James Franco and Shia LaBeouf. It turns out there was nothing anomalous about Brody’s foray into the art world. For Frieze week, Brody is again exhibiting, this time showing works in his Hooked series as part of the Art New York fair.
As the show’s title suggests, the works—mostly paint on canvas, but also a sculpture, a painted skateboard, and conceptual items—deal with fish. For Brody, the fish is a metaphor for being hooked on consumerism and convenience culture. While artworks in this series might get filtered through a humorous lens, Brody is serious about the work and its message. And he also emphasizes that he didn’t just start making artworks on a whim. Art is, in a few different ways, part of his DNA.
“I grew up in New York—I was born and raised here,” Brody tells The Creators Project. “My mom is an artist. Her name is Sylvia Plachy and she is a photographer and she’s been studied by many photographers. She’s got five books out and was mentored by Andre Kertesz, one of the preeminent art photographers. And then my dad is an accomplished painter. Although he doesn’t show his work, he’s actually very gifted.”
Through his mother, who was staff photographer at the Village Voice, Brody was exposed to a distinct visual POV. His mother’s photography proved insightful in forming his own creative outlook.
“At the same growing up and taking the train in from Queens to [Professional] Performing Arts School, a public art school, I saw a lot of very talented visual artists, many of which were accomplished graffiti writers,” Brody says. “There was a lot of artistic influence in this city, both from the street culture and artistic young people to adults who have kind of honed in on a style and an artistic approach to life in general.”
For Brody, this exposure to art has always been present. When he was younger he drew and painted, “messing around with friends,” as he describes it, but he didn’t have the courage to show his work. That is, until several of Brody’s friends—who were painters in their own rights—appreciated his work and encouraged him to show it. Zapata, in particular, has been a big supporter of Brody’s artwork.
But Brody doesn’t mark his early artistic experiences as completely unique. On the contrary, he believes young people are artistic by nature, and it’s either cultivated or shut down in pursuit of social, financial and family conformity.
“At this point in my life it’s become very clear what is important to me in my creative pursuits,” says Brody. “Although I love acting, I have an interest in greater control perhaps in my artistic endeavors, which painting affords. And I have an interest in directing and producing, which also are ways of ensuring overall, overarching goals of the endeavor I’d be in as an actor would be met.”
“As an actor, unless you have a really mindful and powerful filmmaker, your work can either be diluted or diminished in some form,” he adds. “As an an artist or painter, it’s really your responsibility, your voice, and something you have to be accountable for as well. So I’m at that place.”
With the Hooked series and his other works, Brody relishes the immersion of the self into something material and tangible through a concept. He is also inspired by the idea that the work is an “amalgamation of mistakes” that slowly builds into a profound vision.
“This whole Hooked series stems from several different things that came into my life, and ideas and concepts that became a cohesive body of work,” says Brody. “[It] echoes some of the sentiments that I have expressed in Hot Dogs, Hamburgers and Handguns with our addiction to fast food and accessibility. We’re hooked on convenience and all of these other things that are so much a part of mass consumerism, a kind of mindlessness that exists because of our very busy lives and the accessibility that we are afforded in this very great country. But there are other things that are affected by that.”
Brody credits recent travels for opening his eyes on the ripple effects of mass consumption. He’s witnessed deforestation in rainforests, coral bleaching in oceans, and habitat loss for certain species. This comes across in the themes that permeate his artwork.
At the moment, he considers himself in the experimental stage of his artistic career. So there are several styles of painting in Hooked, from screen prints to conceptual works and “Pollock-esque splatter works” formed in the shapes of fish.
“I’m representing the brightness of fish that can live in the darkest corners of the Earth, and how there are parallels between the fragility of that and our own souls,” he explains. “That there needs to be a lightness during darker times that we exist in, and that needs to be cultivated and protected. The paint splattering is also representative of this uniqueness in the creatures. No two images could be the same, just as no two living beings are the same.”
“With the splatter work, I had lots of fun—I was throwing paint off of a three-story building,” Brody adds. “This came about from a mural I was working on—the residue that we left behind from this big piece I did. I was so inspired by that, and then I had this dream of that and the fish, and just kind of put it all together.”
The splatter sculpture, in particular, points ahead to some of Brody’s future artwork. Harboring ambitions to do a lot of sculptural works, this summer he plans to work with a blacksmith. As for the experience of being part of Frieze week and Art Basel Miami, Brody is excited to be on the other side, though he has always loved the artworks that are shown—good or bad—and the ideas that get exchanged.
“I have this painting of a great white shark and it’s titled A Great White Shark—it’s pretty funny to me,” says Brody, laughing. “It’s just this opaque white shark on a red background, and it’s 12 feet long, right by the bathroom. On the other side is this wheatpasted version of one of my images with a bunch of images and graffiti stuff on it, with references to Basquiat’s copyright. I put ‘copyright, restricted, trademark’ and everything all over it. It’s all improvised because it was 1:00 AM and I’d been hanging for 12 hours, and I just took some paint out and a marker and started fucking around with it.”
Brody almost likes this improvised piece more than the “refined pieces” in his exhibition, because it was him purely having fun and playing around. For him, art is about sharing the works and hearing people’s comments as they go to the bathroom, whether the reactions are “What the fuck is that?” or a more complementary “Oh, that’s really cool.” Either way, he’s interested in hearing the reactions.
“The beauty of art is that it’s available for you to look and appreciate,” Brody muses. “And if I can keep this as a part of my artistic expression, and people collect my work, it’s really a big blessing for me.”