Artist Interview with Brett Formosa
Art Exhibition on view at SHAG June 23-Sept 16
What is your name?
Brett Formosa: Brett Formosa is my nom de plume for queer erotic work. My legal name is Benjamin Seaman. Originally, I created Brett for "discretion," but I found Brett took on a life of his own, getting selected for shows and building his own following.
Where are you from? Where are you based now?
I was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico, the son of a government scientist, and we moved around a lot. I came of age in Connecticut, then studied art in Chicago, and later lived in Latin America with an ex. I landed in NYC 30 years ago. When COVID hit, I moved upstate and built a studio in the Catskills.
What is your medium?
My primary medium is acrylic paint on wood panels. I paint very physically with a lot of immediacy, and I like the way you can scrape, sand, and even saw things on wood, with paint that dries quickly. In the last year, I started doing photo shoots to have more control over my photo references, and I found that polaroids complement my work really well.
How did you get started making art?
I started making art in high school. I was lucky enough to get into an arts magnet school where I was exposed to working artists as teachers who showed me that art was a viable path in life.
What inspires you/your art?
As Brett, I am most inspired by male beauty and intimacy, portraying the love between men in various configurations. Aesthetically, I am obsessed with light and how it is transformed by different mediums, from photography to drawing and other mechanical processes. At the content level, I am on a mission to show people that queers exist and that they have healthy, beautiful, and human relationships that differ from cishetero norms.
Tell us about your process.
Most of my paintings start with photos I have taken of models, friends, and lovers. I try to render them in black and white underpainting and then move into complex or duotone color. I often play with ways my paintings can reference distortions in analog photographic processes. The intensity of the paintings is influenced by how I feel about my subjects. I like to take risks with my paintings, and one thing I am currently doing is painting new works on top of failed ones, allowing the previous painting to show through and creating surprise moments of paint-joy.
What role does art play in your life?
This question has evolved over many years. I believe, at this point, Brett's art is based on the idea that the personal is political. Now, more than ever, all of us have to stand up and declare who we are and take up space. Noticing what comes up for me as I try to paint my actual life as it is, without softening it for a perceived normative audience, creates areas for internal growth.
Tell us about the work in the show at SHAG.
The work in "Overexposed" is about cataloging all the fits and starts I have had in the last year, delving deeper into figurative art. I explore how vintage porn, beefcake, academic life drawing, and other genres provide ways for me to say, "I love queer men in all their manifestations. I want to celebrate all that we do and all that we go through."
Who is your favorite artist and/or artwork?
I want to say this is a hard question because I love so many artists, especially those working with the figure. But John Singer Sargent always comes to the top of my mind. It's his use of light, his seemingly effortless brushstrokes that land in precisely the right places, and his tenderness toward his subjects.
Do you have a favorite piece of your own?
I would have to say "At the Beach." It's a painting that was mostly finished in under 2 hours, but I kept coming back to it, making little adjustments. Finally, I found a way to collage in fragments of painted paper that help the painting float between objective and abstract.