Growing up in 1980s Los Angeles, Drury Brennan was surrounded by street culture. He went to art school in Chicago, going on to become a jazz drummer and finally winding up in Berlin. Today he lives in Kreuzberg and creates calligraphy in his studio in Neukölln. We spoke to him about his background, his love/hate relationship with graffiti and his views on culture in the 21st century.

You grew up in the LA graffiti scene - how do you feel it influences your work now?

There’s a quote from Picasso, “A good painting—any painting!—ought to bristle with razor blades.” The script/graffiti scene is very much about bristling with razor blades. If you grow up playing in the streets in Los Angeles, you participate one way or another in graffiti writing, even if you just write your name a stylistic way. All my friends were hardcore writers, but I was really turned off by the politics and amoral hustle that kinda ate them up. I didn’t write or anything for many years after middle school, but always loved the calligraphy and violence in Los Angeles letters. I feel like Los Angeles taught me a lot about what it is for your letters to look like they can love you or kill you.

Is there an artist/musician/person that has influenced you?

Tell us about an someone that inspires you and influences the way that you work. I will pick two, because they both matter to me immensely. Hector “HEX TGO” Rios is an artist from Los Angeles who has impossible-to-fathom levels of talent, accomplishment and history to his canon of works, but he also is one of the most humble, beautiful souls I have ever had the honour of knowing on this Earth. Look into him if you are curious, is all I can say… and also, the hip-hop producer Madlib. His approach to production is so soulful, fearless and lo-fi. He’s not afraid of dirty vinyl, of making a majestic beat out of records he found rotting in a basement and didn’t bother to clean. We need more of this in art, this intermingling of high and low.

 

Is there an artist/musician/person that has influenced you?

Tell us about an someone that inspires you and influences the way that you work. I will pick two, because they both matter to me immensely. Hector “HEX TGO” Rios is an artist from Los Angeles who has impossible-to-fathom levels of talent, accomplishment and history to his canon of works, but he also is one of the most humble, beautiful souls I have ever had the honour of knowing on this Earth. Look into him if you are curious, is all I can say… and also, the hip-hop producer Madlib. His approach to production is so soulful, fearless and lo-fi. He’s not afraid of dirty vinyl, of making a majestic beat out of records he found rotting in a basement and didn’t bother to clean. We need more of this in art, this intermingling of high and low.

What research do you do? Do you walk the streets looking for inspiration?

In terms of calligraphy, I collect a lot of old books from all over the world about lettering and also keep an ongoing PDF collection of rare manuals / alphabet books. My inspiration doesn’t come from the streets so much as it comes from 8th + 9th century Indian mosque decoration and Kufic alphabets from this same time. I study and translate these old manuals so that I can learn more about what it is to really make letters your life, to make your body and mind the vehicle for letter craft. I am always looking at everything though, things I hate, things I love, street fashion, crappy flea markets, everything is inspiring.

What’s your background? Did you study art? What jobs have you done other than being an artist?

I graduated from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (the Kanye degree school) with an emphasis in Photography and Ceramics. I started working when I was 12 as a janitor’s assistant at an office to make money to buy vinyl records. I have been a phone psychic, barista, receptionist, wedding photographer, groundskeeper, ceramics tech, bookseller, line cook, darkroom tech, American Apparel clerk, world music buyer…you name it.

What do you most enjoy doing away from work? Does work feel like work to you?

I feel like in one sense or another I’m always working. I work at a Bikram Yoga studio in Mitte as a cleaner for free yoga classes, and that’s something I do for exercise/clarity/relief, but, as with anything you really invest yourself in, you find yourself growing and learning the levels of discipline of it and want to go further. I think even children that are bouncing a ball would like to get better at it once they get the basic hang of the technique.

I can’t shut off being hungry or curious for things, everything gets folded into the mix and interpreted. I suppose the one thing that I do that is really away from work is eat, and I love to eat all kinds of wonderful food…

Also, I love reading. I just finished this amazing book by Hampton Sides called In the Kingdom of Ice about a failed Polar expedition. It’s chock-full of gross and sublime moments, a ton of historical detail and unbelievable true events. I read a lot of Tibetan Buddhist writings as well, lately the transcripts of Chogyam Trungpa are a huge influence.

You do lots of murals and large scale images. What was your favorite commission or project so far?

My first big museum show in Chicago was incredible, and also the piece that I did for the Poetry Foundation was really awesome. I just want more!

 

What is your dream project?

To completely cover the outside of an entire multi-storey building in my writing. At least 5 stories, but I’ll take 25 if you’ve got ‘em.

 

Thanks Drury!

 
 
 
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