Brandon Graving: Honing Viscosity and Air Currents

Brandon Graving, Mother: Earth 2 detail, 2021, embossed monoprint, 41”x 108”, photo by artist

Brandon Graving aims to transfer and translate a sense of wonder in her artworks. She describes her process of making as exploring the connectedness of all things with ongoing “delight, immediacy and a sense of virginal untamed discovery with a nod towards Humbolt.” Some of her sculptural works are kinetic and turn, revealing elaborate intricacy and shadow play, while other works, including monoprints with handmade inks and semiprecious stones, alter dramatically in different light. She does not intend to depict nature but rather hone ideas and objects into simplified essential forms, some with elaborate treatment. Through her extensive attention to detail, she reflects on how the micro and macro within the work suggest a system that is both diverse and similar, how these dualities interrelate or even duplicate in nature.      

Brandon Graving, Brandon printing Roux at Gravity Press Experimental Print Shop, 2018, photo: D.Deming

You are making large-scale monoprints with a strong sense of dimensionality. You said in your interview with Ann Landi at Vasari 21 that you think of a piece of paper sculpturally. Can you elaborate on that and how do you see the relationship between your prints and sculptures?

I began making Monoprints larger than human form to allow a visceral, physiological response rather than an intellectual interaction associated with a print held in your hand. This scaling up necessitated learning to control the drying time of the inks and both the surface and core of the sheet of paper to be printed on. This is crucial to facilitate a strong substrate and most important, to ensure the paper is receptive to print the subtleties of the image, acknowledging that it records everything that happens to it, much like our skin. I then print with thin inks that infuse deep into the paper and thick, mineral, and metal punctuated inks that glisten on the surface of the Monoprint. 

By building surfaces and developing a textured matrix of information to print in my specialized presses, I am able to create deeply embossed Monoprints with my hand ground inks on wafers of handmade paper. This wet paper can perfectly record the chemical reaction that I have set up as it is unfolding and print at that moment. My prints tend to be exuberantly inky! The prints and sculptures work to support each other, sometimes in a single piece

BrandonGraving, Ephemera: River North, 2020, embossed monoprint, vintage velour canvas and cast Abaca branch, 10.5’ x 16’ x 12’, ( installation shot WAH Center, Brooklyn) photo: D.Demimg

BrandonGraving, Orlando, 2016, Abaca, steel & vellum, 30”x 36”x 7”, photo: Art Evans

Your sculptures are mostly Abaca based and they readily read as fantastic bio organisms or botanical forms. Let’s take a look at Orlando (2016) for example, what is the idea and process behind it?

The recent sculptures begin by casting tree branches using sheets of Abaca which is a strengthening component of many fine art papers. I add a steel armature inside the work and then find the form by placing fingerprint sized layers, building until the work looks right. The suspended works, like Orlando, move and activate the space. Animated by air currents, the sculptures turn and play, engage and sometimes reflect the light. Most important to their concept, they seem to evolve and change shape as they turn. I refer here to the words of the incredible sculptor Lin Emery, a dear friend and mentor, “Sculpture is Living, it’s vital, it’s changeable. Even when you walk around it, it can be something different… sculpture is you mind and an idea.”  
Here is a short video of the sculptures with music by Omar Sosa.

BrandonGraving, Ephemera: River with Flowers, 2005, embossed monoprint with blasting sand and river sticks, 10.5’x 32’ x 20’, photo: Mike Smith

Tell me about Ephemera: River with Flowers, your wall and floor installation which exhibited at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Ephemera: River with Flowers is a 10.5’ x 32’ deeply embossed monoprint with a sculpture component of polychromed river sticks. The work suggests the fluid passage of time and our changing perceptions. Within the monoprint, the clues here are oversized objects located up close, aerial land perspectives and imposed geometry of windows or doors. Referencing traditions of commemorating loss of loved ones by throwing flowers into the river, this piece also describes how water begins as a small stream and powerfully takes over the landscape. It was particularly profound to have it on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art when hurricane Katrina struck the city. 

The monoprint is crusty with garnets and blasting sand that has transferred during the printing process; the deeply embossed paper here has a rich inky surface that still seems almost liquid and changes color as you walk along the 32’ length of the work. Still one of the largest Monoprints ever made by a single artist, the size and scale of this work in integral to its meaning. This work is in the Frederick R. Weisman Art Foundation Collection. 

BrandonGraving, Flag: Hand Amalgam, 2019, embossed monoprint on handmade paper with inks made of metal and bone, 12” x 8.5” , photo by artist

You have moved from LA to MA. How did this move impact your work?

I was born in New Orleans and in the early ‘90’s I attended an international residency at the Contemporary Artists Center here in North Adams where I soon became the Gallery Director, mounting and curating some stimulating exhibitions. For about 15 years I divided my time between both, living in the Riverbend area of New Orleans and a beautiful, smaller bend of the Hoosic River in Massachusetts. Though I think the concepts of my works are larger than specific U.S. states, I do use particular natural objects or elements from locations that touch me deeply. For example, the river sticks from both my “Home” rivers. Incorporating these items is my way of infusing the work with the influence of the location. I consistently use multiple materials that I carefully collected while living in Cameroon for 3.5 years as my practice was evolving during my twenties. 

BrandonGraving, Wish #238 and detail, 2017, Abaca, steel, vellum & crystal, 80” x 49” x 28”, photo: Art Evans

It seems to me that you have almost a symbiotic relationship with your materials, no matter what media you choose to engage with. What is the role of material in your work?

Yes, every substance comes with so much intrinsic information which dictates my choice and how I begin to explore, develop, and find a vocabulary with that material. I want my prints to convey the feeling of viscous “Inky Ink”, arrested during the ink’s visible chemical reaction by a blanket of wet paper and subsequent pressure from my platen press. Coming from a Foundry background, much of my earlier sculpture was primarily many pounds of cast bronze often balanced on a single pivot point. The current air borne paper sculptures appear fragile but in fact are incredibly strong due to being made of Abaca. I fabricate the inks used in my prints with metals and minerals, referencing information learned in my earlier sculpture and the chemical patinas I used in that work. 

BrandonGraving, Studio views of Gravity Press Experimental Print Shop while printing the Roux  image, 2018. Photos : D..Deming

What would you like to share about Gravity Press?

Gravity Press Experimental Print Shop combined my New Orleans Print Studio and the Contemporary Artists Center Print shop here in North Adams where I have one of the largest presses in the world with a Press bed measuring 5’ x 11’. I am the Master Printmaker here and work with Artists from around the world; recent Woodcuts with me in this role were exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. 
Working at Gravity Press is an experience open to Artists of all Print skill levels and can add to any practice. My specialized presses have been developed to create diverse, sensitive, and extremely dimensional prints. We also work with greener materials. 

What are you working on these days?

I am usually working on a great many projects and experiments in my 5,500 square foot Mill Studio. Since the oppressive fear and stress of the pandemic I have been involved in very intimate, small sculptures that are about precarious standing. They are made of multiple components, come apart like toys but need all their parts connected to stand up. A current, large international print project involves personal tracings and some will be twelve times larger than life size. These “Echo” works are sure to grow in unexpected and fascinating ways as open collaborations evolve in the Studio. 

BrandonGraving, Tenacious Standing, 2020, Raku’ fired porcelain, steel, paper, glass & ink, 9.5” x 4” x 3.5”, Photo: D.Deming

Etty Yaniv works on her art, art writing and curatorial projects in Brooklyn. She founded Art Spiel as a platform for highlighting the work of contemporary artists, including art reviews, studio visits, interviews with artists, curators, and gallerists. For more details contact by Email: