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A Conversation with Artist and Curator Brianna Cochran

Written by Greysen Strumpler

Images via the artist

Something that is always incredibly impressive to me is when people can contribute to the art community in more than just one way. I think about artists I know that work in several different mediums, and do it well. I think about people I know who both produce art and work in a gallery setting as well to helping other artists’ work get shown. Being engaged in more than one area, and doing it well, is quite the undertaking.

Recently, I sat down with Brianna Cochran, a fellow Columbus State University student and artist, and frankly, someone that I find very inspiring due to her contributions to the art community in Columbus. Brianna is an art student, working towards her Bachelor of Fine Arts. Her concentration is in ceramics, though she is more than just a ceramicist. She is an illustrator, a painter, and just recently, she became a curator as well. Along with two fellow students, Symone Franklin, and Sarah Grimwood, Brianna curated Energetic Line and Color which was recently shown at the Do Good Fund.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell me about your introduction to art.

A: I grew up in Manchester, which is about 45 minutes away from Columbus. There was an art class in elementary school that introduced me to the realm of art and creation. We didn’t have an art program in middle or high school, but we had art club that reintroduced me to the art sphere and creation. There was really one person, my elementary art school teacher, who upheld the art community in Manchester and she’s a big inspiration for me.

In 5th grade, I did a marker drawing of a frog. She entered it into a local gallery and it was shown. It was because of her help and her connections to the rest of the art community that inspired me to keep pursuing art. I came to Columbus to pursue art. I’m really happy there’s much more scenery here, and an art scene that you can delve deep into and make connections.

Daphne, 2022. Digital.

Q: Tell me about your work now that you are pursuing art at Columbus State University.

A: Currently, I am pursuing both ceramics and narrative illustration. Working with clay to create sculptural forms, as well as working with ink to write a story has been something I’ve enjoyed developing.

Most of my art focuses on the natural world, its textures, natural processes of decay and renewal, and finding peace with existing in nature. It tends to tie in with environmentalism, taking care of the natural world, upholding our role as humans, and making our impact as circular as possible.

Q: Tell me about what you are working on right now.

A: Recently, I’ve continued working on my narrative illustration and my ceramics projects. When it comes to ceramics, I just made a sort of composting multi-tool model, that includes a watering can. I designed the watering can to look like a cloud, which is very bubbly with swirl illustrations and blue glaze. For my narrative work, I just finished a two-page day-in-the-life comic.

I’m thinking about combining my narrative illustration work and ceramics, while still staying with my theme of nature, serenity, and things like that by using illustration on the ceramics.

Wine Creek At Night 2022. Charcoal on Paper (18 in. X 24 in.)

Q:  You mentioned you created a functional watering can, but it also had decorative elements to it. Are you more interested in functional or sculptural ceramics? Or is it somewhere in the middle?

A: I would say that I’m interested in both sculptural and decorative ceramics. Some pieces I make are purely aesthetic, but I also create functional pieces that can be incorporated into the home, but have meaning as well.

Q: Ink and ceramics are very different mediums. Do you ever see the two of them joining at some point in the future?

A: Yes, I would very much like to combine my narrative illustration work and ceramics, while still staying with my theme of nature, serenity, and things like that by using illustration on the ceramics.I actually just spoke with Victoria Duggar at her artist talk at the Bartlett Center. I spoke to her about both of the mediums that I work with and what I want to pursue. That conversation led me to consider the illustration on ceramics, which I’m looking forward to exploring more.

Composting Multitool 2024. Ceramic.

Q: Who or what has been an inspiration for you and your work?

A: There have been so many artists I have looked at, and I’ve gone through many different styles throughout the years, but one of my biggest inspirations currently has been Inka Essenhigh.

She’s a painter, and her work is focused on the natural world and the personification of these natural spirits moving throughout the world. They’re just these epic scenes and they’re so gorgeous.

Q: So, recently you, along with a couple of other CSU students, curated an exhibition. I want to hear more about this.

A: Yes, our exhibit Energetic Line and Color. I’ve always been interested in curation, and the behind-the-scenes aspect of the art world. I was introduced by my professor, Hannah Israel in the gallery practices course at CSU. She really pushed us towards more involvement in the curation process. The primary project we were working on involved the Cohran Collection, and that led it to be shown at the Do Good Fund.

Q: Tell me about the idea behind Energetic Line and Color.

A: We focused on artwork by Black Americans between the 50’s and the early 2000’s. We wanted to bring in brighter emotion, and we focused on non-figurative work that used geometric shapes for personal expression.

I feel like the artists used their nonfigurative work to their advantage. It allowed black artists to enter their artwork into spaces where people didn’t necessarily know that they were artists of color just by seeing it. It gave a doorway for more artists of color to have their work seen.

Q: What was the biggest struggle you encountered in curating the exhibit?

A: We didn’t have all of the pieces in person when we were curating. Getting an idea of the scale and a feel for how it exists in a space was an interesting challenge to deal with. The impact on the space and the perception of the space with the work in it is completely altered, especially with bug paintings that you feel like you can walk straight into.

Q: Did curation affect the way that you create your own work?

A: I would say yes, especially thinking about how my art exists in a space and in context since my work teeters between 2D and 3D. I think about how that impacts the viewer, how pieces interact, and how they flow throughout the space. I’ve also been thinking about how my art interacts with the work of other artists, and the idea of different pieces having a conversation in a space.

SPLASH 2023. Acrylic on plaster and steel (33 in. X 34 in. X 40 in.)

Q: Are you interested in exploring curation more in the future? If so, do you have a dream exhibit that you would like to curate?

A: There are really so many talented artists at CSU, and I would love to be able to push them and get their voices out more.

I also recently discussed the idea of an interactive exhibit. Art that you see in a gallery is usually only for viewing. It’s like ‘Don’t touch it, don’t breathe on it.’ I want to curate an exhibition where it would be encouraged for the audience to interact with the art in a way that incorporates motion or texture.

Q: As an art educator, I think about ways that students who are visually impaired can create and interact with art. I think that this exhibit is an incredible idea for people who can’t experience art like we can.

A: Yes, I would like it to be an immersive experience. An exhibit where you are encouraged to touch or maybe even hear the artwork.

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