This post continues my series “In-Sync with…” aimed to get a closer look at contemporary artists and art professionals from Chicago and abroad. Read it, enjoy it, share it, and get in-sync with Jason Brammer’s Art Manager, Erin Brammer.
I have been a fan of Jason Brammer since I saw his work for the first time. When I invited him to participate in Chicago’s Twelve Exhibition, I noticed how much of the business end of things was handled by his wife Erin. It was not a surprise to me when I found out that she is her husband’s Art Manager. For this blog post, I decided to interview Erin instead of Jason to talk about their well defined artist/manager careers. I am excited with all the good things coming their way as a result of their combined efforts and hard work. Check it out and share the post!!!
Sergio: Where did you go to school (college/university) and what degree did you receive?
Erin: I went Indiana University in Bloomington and graduated in 1998 with a BA in Economics.
Sergio: What is one thing you wish you had learned at school?
Erin: I wish someone had told me that what I studied in school wouldn’t necessarily dictate what I’ll do in life. I remember thinking that choosing the right major was a matter of life and death that was going to determine whether I would be happy and successful. If a soothsayer told me back then that I would be an artist manager for my future husband in 15 years, I would have told them they were nuts.
Sergio: You have formed a wonderful working team with your husband Jason Brammer but before we talk about that, where did you both meet?
Erin: I met Jason in the mid 90s when I was in school at Indiana University in Bloomington. He was the bass player in this indie-alt-country band called Old Pike with a childhood friend of mine, who introduced us. It was an exciting time for them because they had just gotten signed to Sony Records and were playing in NYC a lot and getting on some great tours. In Bloomington, Old Pike would play at this club called Second Story and then invite the entire bar back to their place after the show for these epic all-night parties they called “beer-busters”. Jason and I started talking one night at one of these shindigs and hit it off. When we met, I was getting ready to graduate in a few months and had a job lined up in Chicago. So I moved up here and we kept seeing each other for 3 years in a long-distance relationship before he finally took the plunge and moved to Chicago. I almost moved to Indianapolis instead (which is where he settled for awhile after Old Pike disbanded), and I wonder how life would’ve unfolded in that alternate reality. Suffice it to say, I’m glad we chose Chicago.
Sergio: When and why did you decide to step in as manager for Jason’s art career?
Erin: Before becoming Jason’s manager in May 2007, I had a corporate gig at a financial company called Morningstar here in Chicago. I was a project manager working in software development for retirement planning applications and realized pretty early on that it wasn’t a good fit for me. It was a great job and I was climbing the ladder, but my heart wasn’t in it. I had always dreamed of doing something independently, where I could be my own boss and feel really invested and passionate about what I was doing. Seeing Jason’s talent and watching him evolve and grow as an artist, we began dreaming about what could happen if I devoted myself to managing the business end of things so that he could focus more on making art. We both felt excited about the prospect and I decided to take the leap, quit my job, and give it my best shot. I knew that if I didn’t do it, I’d always wonder “what if”. I knew next to nothing about the art world and had a steep learning curve, but knew about marketing, goal-setting, client service, and project management. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.
Sergio: I have invited Jason to a couple of my curated exhibitions and I have seen how involved you are in everything that goes on with his career. How big of a role do you have in the studio and creative process?
Erin: The studio is mostly his domain, but he’ll sometimes bounce ideas off of me and I give my feedback on his works in progress, which is sometimes solicited and sometimes not. I’ll be working at home in my office and he’ll text me photos of a piece he’s working on. I like to think I have a good eye and offer helpful suggestions, but he might tell you something different. Sometimes I’ll help him select a antique gauge, pulley, or other part for one his mixed media pieces, and joke that I’m going to co-sign the piece on the back. He doesn’t find that very funny!
Sergio: In your opinion, what is the key to keep a good working relationship? What are the challenges of being the art manager for your husband?
Erin: Being a husband & wife team, not working physically side-by-side all the time is one of the keys to maintaining a good working relationship. He spends the majority of his working hours in his Humboldt Park storefront studio, while I mainly work from home in my home office. I help keep him on track with deadlines and time management for his exhibitions, commissions, and other projects. With his work, I generally keep an eye out for quality control, making sure that he legibly signs each piece and remembers to put hanging hardware on, which he hates doing and usually puts off until the end. He calls me the “peanut gallery” because I always have to put in my 2 cents on things. Sometimes it’s appreciated, sometimes not so much. Although we joke around about me being “the brains” and Jason being the space-cadet artist, he’s actually very hands on and in the know about all of our business dealings. The main challenge we face is getting away from work. Sometimes it feels like we have to physically leave Chicago to truly get some time off and no matter where we are, it’s hard to steer our conversations away from art.
ABOUT JASON BRAMMER
Sergio: What do you think are Jason’s greatest qualities as an artist?
Erin: Jason is super disciplined and dedicated to his art practice. He simply spends a lot of time making art. He really can’t be stopped. Even on vacation or days off, I’ll find him sketching up ideas for new pieces. We’ll be walking around the park or something and inevitably he’ll say, “Honey, do you have a piece of paper?” and then he gets it down so as not to be forgotten.
Another one of his greatest qualities is his originality and unique vision. His work is very distinctive and recognizable and I haven’t seen anything quite like it (especially when it comes to the particular mix of painting, sculpture, and assemblage that he does in much of his work).
Sergio: What is inspiring him right now?
Erin: His recent “Gateways” series of graphite drawings was inspired by Tibetan mandalas. For his upcoming show at AdventureLand Gallery, he’s been looking at medieval bestiaries, old manuscripts, and nautical imagery, and has been making ink and watercolor drawings of “creatures of the deep” and writhing tentacled portals that open up to ocean views. He’s always been fascinated by how surfaces get weathered by time and the elements, and he’s been making these latest drawings to look water-damaged, stained, and aged.
Currently, he’s also taking a lithography print-making class at Chicago Printmakers Collaborative and has been studying the work of M.C. Escher, Alphonse Mucha, and Albrecht Durer. Jason is working on a limited edition run of prints that will soon be available as part of his “Into the Deep” series. He’s also experimenting with incorporating encaustics onto the surfaces of his paintings for a subtle luminous effect, which he’s excited about.
Sergio: Recently Jason won the Chicago Red Bull Curates challenge. Can you tell us a bit more about that and what will happen as a result?
Erin: It’s called “Red Bull Curates: The Canvas Cooler Project” and in 7 cities across the country, Red Bull hand-picks 20 artists to transform Red Bull coolers into a work of art. They put on big art party in each city where the coolers are on display and a panel of judges select the top 2 artists as winners. In Chicago, the event was held at the awesome Lacuna Artist Lofts and Jason was selected as a winner for his piece called “The Creature Catcher”. This means he gets an all-expenses-paid trip down to Miami Beach to exhibit his work at SCOPE during the Miami Basel international art fair extravaganza, which has always been a dream of ours to participate in. He will have at least a couple pieces as part of a group exhibition at SCOPE with the other Red Bull Curates winners and I believe that Red Bull also secures an outdoor wall in Miami where the artists will do a big collaborative mural. We can’t wait!
Sergio: What is next for Jason (openings, galleries, projects, etc)?
Erin: The very next thing is Jason’s solo exhibition at AdventureLand Gallery called “Into The Deep”, which opens this Friday, June 7th. For his new ink and watercolor drawings I mentioned, he created these amazing hand-painted frames for each one with antique parts and other 3-D elements incorporated. Jason also just got selected to exhibit at the Union League Club of Chicago this September (opening September 5th). We were honored to be chosen for an exhibition there and I think the club will host some type of art tour for EXPO Chicago while Jason’s show is up, which is exciting.
Another very recent development is that Jason is now represented by Linda Warren Projects here in Chicago. We have been long-time fans of her gallery and are really thrilled to be part of her roster of artists. Linda is a pleasure to work with and we have already been learning so much from her. The gallery space is beautiful and she has a wonderful team of people working there with her. Jason will have a solo show there in April 2014, so the gears are already turning in preparation for that.
ABOUT CONTEMPORARY ART
Sergio: What excites you about the Chicago art scene?
Erin: I’m seeing an upsurge in interest in the visual arts in Chicago with people coming out in droves to see what’s going on. Going out to openings and other events, I feel like there’s a good scene that is developing of new artists who support each other. There is a real sense of community that is more apparent to us now than a few years ago.
Sergio: What is your opinion about contemporary art fairs?
Erin: We enjoy going to contemporary art fairs and find them a great way to see what’s out there and going on in the art world all in one place. It’s also a good chance for artists to scope out galleries in other cities that might be a good fit for their work. We were able to check out The Armory Show in New York City in 2011 and had the opportunity to show Jason’s work with Tony Fitzpatrick’s gallery Firecat Projects in a satellite fair called Verge, which ran concurrently in Brooklyn. The Armory Show was interesting and overwhelming and seemed to go on forever. As I said earlier, we’re looking forward to being a part of SCOPE later this year, which is one of the satellite fairs of Miami Basel for emerging contemporary artists.
Book…. For artists who want to blaze their own trail, I would recommend “I’d Rather Be In the Studio: The Artist’s No-Excuse Guide to Self-Promotion” by Alyson B. Stanfield. It’s a good reference for marketing and art business in general. “Inside the Painter’s Studio” by Joe Fig is a great book of interviews with contemporary artists. Fig recreates each artist’s studio in miniature detail and the book has a lot of helpful advice for young artists.
Art movie or documentary… “Exit Through The Gift Shop” is a fascinating and highly entertaining documentary.
Art museum… In Chicago, The Art Institute. When we last visited NYC, I loved Neue Galerie that had an exhibit of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele.
Contemporary artist… It’s hard to pick one. I love the work of Josh Keyes, Jeremy Geddes, and Oliver Vernon, and of course, my husband Jason Brammer. I am his biggest fan, and I wouldn’t be a very good artist manager if I didn’t mention him.
Place to be inspired by… Being in nature with fresh air, away from artificial light and the sound of traffic, is what refreshes and inspires me the most. It’s been too long since I’ve been out in the middle of nowhere. Here in Chicago, I get little nature fixes at Humboldt Park. There are so many great nooks where you can just sit and look at the reflections in the water, or marvel at the variety of birds, flowers, and plants there. We also rediscovered the Garfield Park Conservatory when Jason was part of the “Chicago’s Twelve” exhibit that you curated and arranged there. That is really a natural gem in the city.
One sentence advice for an art student… If you are serious about being a professional full-time artist, be sure to spend time studying the business-side of the art world. The “Art World” is a huge umbrella and there are many different scenes and approaches. It’s about understanding the varied ways you can facilitate making a living from your artwork, and finding the approach that works for you. Even if you decide to go the gallery route, it’s important for artists to take some responsibility for their own promotion and marketing. Nowadays, with social media, there are so many ways to get your work seen. That said, you can’t rely solely on the internet and emailing to market yourself. It is absolutely crucial to go out to openings and events on a regular basis and meet people. The majority of shows and opportunities that have come our way have been the result of in-person introductions and follow-up. Also, whatever shows you do, be sure to collect names and email addresses and start an email list. Keep in touch with people who have expressed an interest in your work. We focus a lot of time on developing relationships and some of our best collectors bought their first piece after months or even years of us staying in touch. Be persistent, but not obnoxious with your communications. Sorry, Sergio, that was way more than one sentence.
Chicago cafe/restaurant… I love so many, but if I have to pick one favorite, at least at the moment, it would be The Handlebar. Heading into summer, they have the absolute best outdoor patio and I’m sure we’ll be spending a lot of time there. I also love weekend brunches at Longman & Eagle in Logan Square (where we live) and The Flying Saucer in Humboldt Park is a great lunch spot. For coffee, our favorite is Dark Matter Coffee at the Star Lounge in the Ukrainian Village.
YouTube video… This clip from Portlandia cracks me up and somedays it hits a little too close to home, so much so that the term “technology loop” is a regular phrase in our household. http://youtu.be/Pe-zq4bFPFU