In the Studio with Brian Rochefort

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The works of Brian Rochefort are as much manipulations of the surface as they are manipulations of your expectations of what a surface should be. Forms are taken to their respective extremes: paint clusters barnacle-like around a shape or slips sleekly over smooth curves. The Los Angeles-based mixed media artist deals in the kind of sculpture and ceramic that defy, seemingly, the mediums’ guiding principles, all while staying reverential to its historical context. His modern creations serve as inflamed versions of a surface’s base potential.

After receiving his BFA from Rhode Island School of Design, Rochefort set up his studio in Los Angeles, where he’s been helping advance the dialogue in his field, perhaps most notably with his Gloop series. Here, Rochefort transforms cups into smeared rainbows of color, where multiple layers bubble, crack, spill away from one another. Their utility is stripped away with every additional layer, becoming heavy and angular and altogether too cumbersome to ever dream of using.

Rochefort has shown his works at The Cabin and Richard Heller Gallery in Los Angeles, Sorry We’re Closed in Brussels, and Retrospective Gallery in Hudson, New York. As he was in the midst of preparing for a slew of new shows, we visited his studio to talk Southern Hemisphere inspirations, unexplored mediums, and playground French fries.

brian rochefort

Former occupation and your most notable memory there:

For six years I taught painting and ceramics to high-functioning adults with autism and schizophrenia. I left a couple years ago to become a full-time artist.  My best memory there was meeting my co-worker, who has been my best friend and partner ever since. We used to run away on break to a local playground and eat French fries.

Your first experience with art as a child:

My parents bought me an easel when I was about five or six. I would draw mostly animals, such as big cats and elephants. My mom would help me make sketchbooks of cheetahs and tiger drawings, titled with their name and habitat.

brian rochefort

Were your parents interested in the arts? What did they do for work?

My mom was interested in crafts and she was good at drawing and flower arrangements. My dad was in sales and had no interest in art but encouraged me to pursue my interest in the arts.

Do you remember your first interaction with ceramics? What was that like?

I was 14 and a freshman in high school. I fell in love with it right away and have been with clay ever since. Despite being such an ancient material, it always felt unexplored and fresh.

brian rochefort

Your ceramics take on such unfamiliar shapes and textures. How do you develop the processes seen in your work?

I develop thick glaze by carefully applying glaze, layer by layer, in a very similar way a painter applies paint to a canvas, except in between each layer of glaze, I fire the piece in a kiln.  Sometimes I smash the tops off of pieces I do not like and rework the surface by dipping it in wet clay. Because of the technique, every work can be considered an ongoing piece. I can always glaze over an unfavorable surface, so I exploit this.

How has the natural world inspired your work recently and why?

I went to the Galapagos Islands in May of 2016. It was my first time traveling outside of the United States and being completely out of my element. I swam with penguins, sharks, giant sea turtles, and sea lions. Near the tail end of my stay on Isabela Island, I hiked Sierra Negra Crater, which is a giant hole in the earth. I found this experience to be overwhelmingly beautiful. It inspired a number of other trips that same year to Belize, Guatemala, East Africa, and the Bolivian Amazon.

In between each trip, I developed this body of work based on what I saw and how I felt in these remote areas. I channeled the experience and emotions into the artwork by amplifying colors and textures to the point where the work became totally alien. To me, the ATM Caves of Belize, Ngorongoro Crater in Tanzania, and the cloud forests of the Bolivian Amazon were extraordinary places that need to be preserved. This is an ongoing series of work where I continue to organize and process the unfamiliar environments I placed myself in.

brian rochefort

How did you find your current workspace and where is it?

My studio is in El Sereno, which is a subsection of Downtown Los Angeles. I found it while driving by one day. I was really fortunate because it was completely refinished by the new owner who allowed me to set up a kiln.

What do you eat for breakfast?

I make a fruit and vegetable smoothie. Sometimes I stop for a chocolate-covered donut on the way to studio.

brian rochefort

What’s a day typically look like for you, from start to finish?

I wake up early: 5:30 – 6:00 a.m. I work on the computer for a bit while watching an episode on Netflix. I get to studio early and clean everything in sight, then I spend some time playing on my phone, thinking about what I want to do or where I want to travel next. I unload my kiln, glaze, and build sculpture pretty much all day. About once a week I visit galleries and museums with a friend to stay inspired. At night I go on dates with my fiancé.

Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?

Yes. I have been listening to Trevor Something and Labyrinth Ear. I am looking into surround sound for my studio.

brian rochefort

Least favorite question people ask you as an artist:

“Can I get a discount?”

What are you currently working on?

I have an upcoming solo show at Van Doren Waxter, formerly known as 11R Gallery in NYC on the Lower East Side. I also have two back-to-back museum shows the same month at the Boca Raton Museum of Art in Florida, and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse.

brian rochefort

What medium or tool are you most interested in presently and why?

At the moment, I am mostly interested in ceramics. It is a wonderful, volatile, and unexplored material that has always been a big part of my life.

What material do you go through the most of?

Glaze and clay. Lately I have been picking up discarded clay from local ceramic studios to use in my work.  Otherwise it gets thrown away.

brian rochefort

What book/ film/ work of art most recently captured your attention and why?

I recently visited the Broad Museum. I loved looking at paintings by Cecily Brown, Albert Oehlen, and Julie Mehretu. All of their works contain strange gestural brush strokes that are dense and worked over. I like walking side to side or back and forth to see a whole work of art.

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

Master your craft.

Photos by Tyler William Parker for SIXTY Hotels

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn

Jenny Bahn is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn, specializing in music, fashion, the arts, and culture, both high and low. Her work has been featured in Cereal, Lenny Letter, and more.