Dre Britton is an artist working in Baltimore, Maryland. We met up with him in his studio where we discussed the constructionist vs. constructional aspects of his work, his interest in furniture, and the work’s subtle references to Wu Tang.
You are currently working on a lot of deconstruction. Why?
So I have been going around for the past couple of months just finding pieces of furniture and whatever I can and learning a lot of upholstery on the fly trying to figure out how to construct couch frames for myself in order to make these modular sculptures that some of them cannot be reconfigured. Right now I am trying to get everything to stick together really.
Are they all abandoned furniture?
A lot of them I have been getting on Craigslist. People don’t want the couches anymore so I pick them right up and deliver them to the studio. I used to go around alleyways and try to find what I could but that can get pretty rough and cleaning that shit out is too much of a hassle. I have some horror stories.
What inspired you to work with furniture?
I used to be a painter. I was working with a lot of different thing and trying to see if I had certain imagery I was interested in. I was making a lot of weird paintings and then found out I wasn’t really interested in painting. So I began researching artists who worked in a sort of deconstructive nature and that inspired me to think what I could work with. Couches were built pretty similar to paintings in a more complicated manner. It is the same upholstery really, interior and exterior. I deconstructed a couch, fell in love with the insides and revealing them, it grew from there.
When you are done with a piece is a whole different realm?
I always try to strip away the couch’s function and leave it as an object you can look through and contemplate. I guess couches are interesting because we spend so much time with them. It is a daily object that we don’t take much for. These couches have these geometric components on the inside. The stripes are there the insides I can turn that without having to do much. Physically stripping these things let the visual components fall into their own as they lose their function and become things that you experience by looking.
You really find some poetry in the skeletal structures of these objects. What themes do you think about when you make your work?
I think about structure and repetition and trying to find some sort of cohesion in this nonsense that I start. It’s this random thing that I try to improvise. For a while when I first started I was really interested in luxury items and contemporary art forms of these rustic objects when you decontextualize them and what happens to them after that. I can drag a couch I didn’t do anything to and lay it in a gallery. When I was painting this was a big deal for me, an art object had to be something that had a lot of work put into it and was painted in a specific way. Doing this was my way of removing myself from that way of thinking. So I guess I always come back to challenging that mode of thinking of what an object is in the first place.
How did the jump from painting to sculpture happen?
I stapled a canvas to my wall, primed it, painted it, leaned it against the wall and kept making these sort of moves; something sitting in between being a painting and being a sculpture. Then I started collecting shipping pallets, things that were rectangular or had a frame with it, and making them into a painting that was sitting in between a sculpture. I kept dancing between making objects that were functioning as a painting and then I became less and less interested in using paint and more interested in things that had these fabricated forms and these frames and metal pieces and mechanisms inside them. I fell in love and I left painting behind. I am more interested in the tension that occurs when you stretch a canvas. So I would pull a side of it, have one side loose and then crush it back together. With upholstery you get this lush form to it.
What are you excited about working on next?
I am building a couch from scratch. I bought a bunch of plywood, marine vinyl, and slowly but surely getting all that together. I have to make myself make something rather than take something apart and that is a different way of thinking for me right now. In a certain degree when I build an art object I don’t think about the weight and the support but the weight of a lot of these things and the way they take that into account is very interesting. I was able to invert it and balance it on the edge. There is this counterweight element I found I want to explore. How much these things weigh and how can I push gravity.
Do you collaborate with any other artists?
I always do things together with my friend Rodrigo Carazas Portal who lives in D.C. We did a duo show back in 2014 and we have been trying to get an artist book together. Oscar Tuazon is a big inspiration. Angela De La Cruz is the one that made me want to make that jump from painting to sculpture. Also architecture, I fucking love it. I love internal structure in buildings and seeing them half done. I love things that are not completely polished and show what’s happening inside but have an exterior that you can admire.
Your have a series called Guillotine? Why the title and what are they about?
I was obsessed with this random Wutang song so I was naming a whole bunch of my work after it. There was something brutal and harsh about it and I wanted the pieces to follow in with that feeling. Then I started thinking about the actual object of the guillotine and how it accommodates the body. The series includes five or six of these objects, a few of which I will build from scratch.
What music do you listen to?
A lot of music that cuts up things and then puts it into something new, like DJ Shadow. Trip hop in general and anything that samples. A lot of Japanese music too.