Just Making: An Interview with Brandon Foushee and John Denniston II
Since I’ve been staying in Massachusetts for the last few months, I planned a weekend trip to New York in mid-September to see the collaborative photography and painting show “Just Things” at Pratt’s Lower ARC photo gallery. After spending two days trying to figure out how I’d get onto campus on such short notice, I was approved and slipped into the closed gallery. I went with one of the artists behind the show, photographer Brandon Foushee, who unlocked the doors, flicked the switch and shed light on the expansive 50+ piece exhibition he and John Denniston II had put together. Brandon, a senior photography major at Pratt, had lived and breathed this exhibit for the past two months, alongside fellow creator John, a senior painting major. The show starts with a wall of thirteen 8x10” hybrid experimentations titled “Image Feedback 1-13,” presented in a checkerboard fashion and made from darkroom paper exposure and paint. The exhibition continues with other works that give viewers a firm grasp onto a collage style of photos and paintings together on the same canvas. One of my favorite pieces, “Light Works #2” shows a downed and uprooted tree surrounded by a foggy mass of bleached canvas and exposed photo paper. With these pieces that sit somewhere outside of either respective medium, the two prepare gallery visitors for the conversation that’s held throughout the exhibition: the relationship between painting and photography. Both Foushee and Denniston are artists who allow for the theoretical and the everyday to clash in their work, bringing together something that is greater than the sum of its parts. The two are deep thinkers on the nature of their craft, always searching for new perspectives and new angles to consider. After reflecting on the show, I wanted to sit down with them and engage in the conversations I was being led through in this exhibition. Once I was back in Massachusetts, the two joined me on a video call to share coffee and discuss their process. To start off, what inspired this show? Foushee: We bounced ideas [back and forth] because we always had long art talks where we just dove off the deep end. [The show] evolved from one of those talks, starting with the exhibition to the concept we have now of trying to bridge the gap between painting and photography. Deniston: Having a show [seemed] like the natural thing to do, given Brandon and I are so involved with each other’s perspectives. I would say things in regards to painting and Brandon would say things in regards to photography, and we would compare the two naturally. We [just needed] to have a show about the things that we talk about. It felt very organic.
That’s nice. How many studio hours would you say went into preparing the show? Deniston: I know the last week before the show was [comprised of] 14 hour days consecutively. [Add in] our own studio time…I’d say close to 100 hours, probably more. Foushee: We heard back that we got the show in late July and knew we wanted [it] to be late September. We had a solid two months to work, but we didn’t touch anything for that first month until [Pratt] opened because we needed those facilities. We only had, like, one month to make the pieces. Deniston: [Our conversations] set the groundwork for what we made and allowed us to work more seamlessly and effectively. There’s an aspect of [our] relationship in the way we work, so as far as time goes, I almost want to say it took the right amount of time. Was the one month time constraint part of the plan to begin with? Foushee: The only thing built into the plan was [already knowing] we were going to need the school’s facilities. A lot of the show was a call and response process where I would make one thing [and] John would respond to it, or vice versa. We tried to start out with the darkroom pieces, but after reaching out to see if I could use the darkroom, [the photo department] said I had to wait until the semester started. So we had two weeks in the beginning of “non-tangible” work. The piece “Light Works #4” and the three columns titled “Free #1,” “Free #2” and “Free #3” were all made in the last week. John had acquired all of those wood panels two weeks before the show. We knew we still needed to fill [gallery] space, but it didn’t feel cohesive without the clean staple pieces. Those two works are the best that we made. It was just both of us responding to what was there. It felt the most collaborative. Denniston: I agree. With these time constraints, I think we had amazing luck. [We also had] this relationship [with] free jazz. [We didn’t have] a fool-proof plan; it was just a hope for the best mindset.
You mentioned free jazz, which is a style of jazz that works to strip away any conventions at all. After going to the show, I can definitely see the connection. It’s very organic, and one can see your different personalities in each work. Could you talk more about this relationship between the music and the work? How often were you physically working together? Foushee: All the time we were in the studio together we had [free jazz] on. John and I [are] avid listeners. The complexities of free jazz [are incredible]. [It’s amazing] how you can tune your ear and listen and be able to see what each person is doing with each instrument. The best part [of] that genre for me is [that] in order to be okay with it, you have to be extremely open. So that’s the way I worked for the show. Both John and I were trying to be open with each other, even if that [meant] shutting [an idea] down. We’d do something and it [would fail] and we’d be like “Oh, we can still try and incorporate this.” It was just make, make, make, and pick and choose at the end. We were just so open to the idea that anything we touched could be considered. It was freeing to work [in a] way [that was] similar to the improvisation of free jazz. Denniston: That term Brandon used, “We were just making,” is a nice way to talk about our process. Brandon would send me what he was working on, and [it] would blow me away and get me excited. Our minds were engaged in this way almost 24/7. Foushee: It was seeing a crazy piece and being inspired to go and make a crazy piece. Denniston: It was us just trying to raise the bar for [the] both of us. It was like riding a bike; each of us had a foot on each pedal, and by the end, we were one body with two feet on the bike. Why do you find it important to bring painting and photography together? Denniston: For me, it’s not something I feel the need to justify; it's as important as doing any art. That goes along with our idea of the meaninglessness of distinguishing the two [mediums.] Brandon also paints, and I also take pictures. We both have malleable practices. There’s no need to justify it, or there shouldn’t be. The show is an argument for that belief. We’re making “just things.” Foushee: The reason why we had “Just Things” as the title was to allude to [the idea of], “Here’s what we threw up on the walls; you guys have to actually interact with it.” One of our motivations in conceiving this idea was [getting tired of being] part of a specific genre. At the end of the day, we’re all just making images. We don’t want genre to limit someone’s idea of what is on the wall. I think that people see [painting and photography] as so far apart that they can’t come together, but I think they overlap. Ultimately, you’ve got to take work for what it is. Don’t limit the things you can do in any medium.
Now that the show is over, where can people find the work? Is any of it for sale? Denniston: Check out our website brandonfoushee.me. The catalogue section has all the prices; the secret password is “just-things.” Everything’s for sale publicly. We put a lot of time, effort and money into the show, so any sales are appreciated. - Photos courtesy of Brandon Foushee and John Denniston II