Interview: Brian Willmont

Brian Willmont is a multi-talented creative. Along with his partner, Cody Hoyt, he spearheads Apenest, a design/art collective that self-produces collaborative silkscreens, graphics and a stunning full color book showcasing a stable of brilliant contemporary artists. Beautiful/Decay recently received a copy of their book and was blown away by the attention to design and the quality of the artists included. As an artist, Willmont also creates invididual work—his stunning works on paper detail an idiosyncratic personal vocabulary, often leaning towards fantastical situations, brightly colored in a hyperspectra of acid-induced prismatic color. Lurking beneath the enticing exterior, however, a darker, more apocalyptic narrative manifests itself; apparent in Willmont’s depiction of decaying architectural structures and implied destruction. 

SL: Can you talk a little bit about your inspiration behind Apenest? 


BW: Apenest was conceived doubly as a way to make accessible art and to create a venue for the work of younger artists who we think are important and deserve recognition. Apenest isn’t anything too specific, it’s whatever we want it to be, which is exactly what it should be. 


SL: How did you and your partner, Cody Hoyt, begin working together? 


BW: Cody and I were printmaking majors together at MassArt, which is a tiny department of misfits contained in a hangar sized basketball gym with studios on the balconies. This was an incredible breeding ground for us to fuck around in. Cody and I started collaborating on goofy drawings of naked girls and skulls during weekly meetings of ‘Drawing club’ which was a group of printmakers who got drunk and made fucked up drawings together. We had a student show where Cody and I put together a catalog with a late night hook up at Kinkos and the silkscreen equipment at school. Our next collaboration was Apenest. 

SL: Your compendium of contemporary artists, Apenest Volume 2, is a beautifully published, full color 208 page book featuring a broad selection of some 26 contemporary artists and contributors. Can you talk a little bit about how you curated the artists? Is there a unifying aesthetic that you gravitate towards? 


BW: I would say that aesthetically we like a lot of different types of artists who all tend to have a graphic nature to them. We show the kind of work that when you see it, you are compelled to make a B-line for it to just stand there without realizing your surroundings. Work that is visually arresting but also goes much deeper, work that operates on different levels. 


SL: I read that you raise money for the publication by collecting original artworks from the artists involved, which are then sold to a collector. As a result, your publication features no advertising and is available at an affordable cost. That seems like such a great, DIY idea—can you talk about how you came up with this solution? Do you plan to continue producing the books in this manner? 


BW: We originally had decided to do a magazine, it would be full color, good weight and feel, no ‘zine’. That right there was basically how we started Apenest, a 5 minute conversation in the hallway. We put together a hand made look book and a pdf and went to everyone we could think that might want to advertise and got flatly rejected by everyone we talked to. Realizing that we were in no position to make a magazine, since noone was going to buy an ad from two kids who may or may not do what they say, we decided we should do a book instead and therefore retain all control. We were talking to a collector about our predicament, trying to come up with ways to amass large amounts of money in quick, legal manner and came up with this. We’re really proud of the model, it’s a really punk way of doing something totally slick. Apenest is really about community, so I think it really works, I just hope the artists are just as pleased as we are! Nothing would be possible without each one of their participation; it’s a group effort. We’d love to keep working this way, but I am not sure how conducive the current economical forecast is towards this model. 

SL: What’s the process like of compiling all of these artists works into a book, the publishing process, etc? 


BW: Once we’ve collected all of the artwork, we just start going for it, it’s an intuitive process since neither of us technically know what we are doing. Cody did most of the layout for the last book, we worked on a draft together in Boston, Cody moved to L.A. and cleaned it all up like a pro. Now that we live in different states we send a lot of pdf’s and screen shots to each other so that it is still a collaboration. My brother lives in shanghai and hooked us up with a friend of his who is a print broker who helped us out a ton and really helped us figure out what form the book would take shape. 


SL: You also create prints by hand and design/silkscreen T-shirts—can you talk a little bit about these projects? 


BW: We’ve been making prints and shirts the whole time we’ve been collaborating, it’s something more tactile and immediate, it’s also our more creative outlet within Apenest. When we realized we needed lots of money to make a book, we decided to start making artist-designed limited edition T-shirts. We wanted to make something we thought was cool, no clip art, and no cheesy mimetic illustrations. They were art tshirts, we printed them using anything we could get our hands on, Acrylic, plasticol, bleach, house paint, U.V. pigment, ink. We constantly change shirt colors and inks in the middle of printing. This leaves us with a rainbow pile of shirts that are almost all different. We considered this the entry level of Apenest in our mission to put art in your house. We haven’t made shirts in a while and don’t have any left, it’s not a conscious decision, I think it’s a lack of access and time, we continue to make designs for other people though. We are focusing on print and multiple editioning more nowadays, thinking it’s the next step. This will likely focus on other artists for the most part, though we do have a new collaborative print in the shop now. 


SL: You are also an artist yourself—can you talk a little bit about your creative process for a work—from the inception of an idea to its completion? 


BW: Most pieces start in my notebook, on scraps of paper or on my hands. I write down ideas and images that I grab from the continuous noise in my head. They are all little codes that are supposed to link me to a whole set of ideas I had going on at the time. A lot of times when going through my notebook I have no idea what half of the stuff means. These notes are my keys to making pictures, they tend to have gravity and clump themselves together where they can either make their way into my work immediately or sit till I find the missing pieces. I don’t make sketches, sometimes I draw a composition map, but any sketching happens right on the paper. In my head I’ll have a pretty good idea of what I want to do, but it generally ends up very different, although I come up with a plan, I work very intuitively. I think of it like building, each piece is placed based on that last. 

I’ve always enjoyed accidents, like getting lost in a car; a new adventure can ensue if you are open to it. There is a certain amount of control involved in my work, but the process of puddling forces you to open up and go with what’s happening. The surface is fragile, you can’t re work it the way you can with oil or acrylic, and if you try and mess with it too much you’ll just fuck it up. A piece is usually done just before I’ve gone too far and destroyed it. 


SL: What are some of your sources of inspiration behind your works—whether visual, ideological, musical…? 


BW: Oh man, I think almost everything seeps in, the more information coming in, the more there is to process and regurgitate into a new world. Pop culture has influenced my work a lot; Nintendo, punk rock, and graffiti have affected my aesthetics and color theory. 

I grew up in Boston raised by divorced hippy parents that lived in the same triple-decker apartment building. There was a huge wooded park bordering our back yard that had been built in the late 19th century as a part of the city’s beautification and recreational planning projects. Aside from the Gangsters, junkies and witch doctors I had this giant park to myself. The woods full of burnt out cars, sacrificial voodoo sites, ruins of buildings centuries gone and an abandoned zoo made up my playground. 

I often took up projects such as melting plastic army men and action figures together in these huge battlefields of charred warriors and setting up elaborate terrariums for salamanders, tadpoles and crawfish that I would find in the park. I’ve always like building and putting things together and tend to think of both my work and Apenest similarly to setting up an ecosystem for amphibians. 

Something that I try to instill in my work is the method of visual communication used in folk art, illuminated manuscripts, pre-renaissance painting, Persian (and other) miniature painting, poster art and choose your own adventure books. Alejandro Jodorowsky’s films and Haruki Murakami’s novels have been a big influence in the past year, they have interesting takes on themes of life and death, rebirth, transformation, fantasy/reality and spirituality. I always listen to music while working, generally something that has a similar mood that I feel in what I am making, usually its metal, punk, old rock and roll or something in between. 


SL: The image of haphazard, rainbow geometric architectural forms seem to pop up throughout your works—whether kalleidiscopically pastiching them into drawings, or literally installing them as site-specific sculptures. How do you view these structures? 


BW: Architectural structures have always been an important symbol in my drawings, constant and comforting they root us to our perception of the world. I tend to draw the type of ramshackle shelters that you would imagine either visionary hippies or vigilante warlords building on their own, precariously piled and built from haphazard elements collaged together. From temporal dwellings to more advanced structures that sit somewhere between Failing and developing utopias/dystopias between obliteration and fruition. When I was 4 my mom ran away with me and we lived in the hand made hippie homes and domes of her friends and boyfriends. In my memory these homes, like the ones I paint are simultaneously magical places built out of personal vindication and seedy shacks where lost dreams go to smolder and die. 


SL: Your newest works, painted in gouache on black paper, feature a whole new set of iconographies—blue brick castles, medieval skull knights, banners—how did you arrive at this visual language? 


BW: These pictures are influenced by heraldic crests, which I became interested in because of their decorative abstraction of hierarchical symbols of power, aggression and nationalism. After moving to New Mexico this year I discovered that my grandmothers’ family here had it’s own crest. Many of the Old Spanish family’s here have crests, and though my family’s history is on a ranch I can’t help relate it to the tenuous and violent relationship between the Spanish conquistadors, Mexicans, and American Indians. Not that I am trying to address this specifically, it is just a jumping off point for me. I’ve been interested in military decoration for a while and I’ve wanted to incorporate something medieval for years, so investigating heraldry is perfect. Right now, I am using pattern as a deceptive device, like a smoke screen to hide the gruesome. I am constantly building my visual vocabulary trying to mix disparate histories and iconographies to build meaning. 


SL: Despite the hyperspectra of visually seductive color—I sort of get a sense of conflict underlying the images? The make shift houses and structures look as if rainbow trolls had to build arks to escape a great flood, or gnomes built shanty towns on acid. There are always implications of danger, whether violence, black smoke, etc. Even the titles, with names such as “Creeping Death,” “Vortex,” “The End,” “Them,” have a sort of ominous feel. Do you have a specific narrative behind these works? 


BW: I definitely view the work as being pretty ominous, beneath the veil of patterned color is something dark going on. I don’t want to build a specific story, but maybe represent slices one and give the viewer enough information to come up with his or her own account. There is a large narrative of a creation myth in flux with creation and destruction running through the work. This isn’t something that I try to manipulate much, it mostly takes its own course and I evaluate it later. 


SL: What other upcoming projects are you working on, both with Apenest and your own artwork? 


BW: Apenest is working on a couple of music related designs, which should be fun. We’re trying to work out strategies for publishing more prints, thinking about making print subscriptions. We’re starting our search for a benefactor for Apenest Vol. 3, we’ll probably be working on that more soon. We’d also love to put some more art shows together. 

I am working on some pictures for a pattern show at Hallway Bathroom Gallery (San Francisco), a punk show at Lamontagne Gallery (Boston) and a three-person show at 92Y Tribeca in NYC with Denise Kupferschmidt (whos’s in Apenest vol.2) and Eric Shaw, both of whom I know from Boston. Im applying for residencies and dreaming about grad school, but Im starting to realize that $120,000 is a real number! 


SL: Ultimately, what’s your dream goal for your artwork and Apenest? 


BW: To have a compound! That’s what we need, a fortress with a design studio, print shop, big ass art studio and a kitchen. There should also be cottages on premises where we live and a pack of dogs. We’ll need a swimming hole and a rope swing too. I just want to make art all of the time forever and always. 

To view more of Brian Willmont’s work, go to: 

Brian Willmont 

Or visit: Apenset 

Image credits: 

Images courtesy of the artist and Apesnest 

Page excerpt from Apenest Vol.2 

Page excerpt from Apenest Vol.2 

Apenest Vol. 2 Book Cover 

From the series “Gold Rush” 

From the series “Creeping Death” 
Gouache on paper 

From the series “Creeping Death” 
Gouache on paper 

From the series “Feudal Echo” 
Gouache on paper 

From the series “Creeping Death” 
Gouache on paper 

From the series “Know Your Shadow” 

From the series “Vortex” 
36″ tall 
Acrylic, ink, spray paint, flocking, model houses and trees 

From the series “Martyrs” 
spray paint, hand marbled paper, guache, acrylic and paper, on paper 

From the series “the End” 

From he series “Somewhere”

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