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Brian Mains

Interview by Meg Linton

Juxtapoz Magazine (June 2015, Issue 173)

Brian Mains
2015, photo by Chet Zar

Jim Starrett, artist and long-time professor at Otis College of Art and Design, introduced me to the otherworldly paintings and drawings of Brian Mains. Starrett and Mains met and became friends during the latter's employment as the slide curator at Otis during the 1980's. After leaving Otis, Mains went on to work at The Huntington Library in San Marino, CA for 25 years until his recent retirement. There, Mains helped document the Art Collections and had access to an amazing assortment of paintings, drawings, prints, rare books, manuscripts, and maps dating from the Middle Ages to present. Undoubtedly, this exposure has fueled and influenced his interest in symbolism, figuration, and narratives of transformation and transcendence.

Mains lives with his wife and daughter in a bungalow in Monrovia, California, just around the corner from artist Chet Zar. Mains works at home in a studio he had built when his daughter was born in 1995. His workspace is sparse and modest, almost monastic. It is a safe haven to let his imagination run wild and also a quiet space for the intense focus needed to render his provocative images of human suffering and the potential for enlightenment.

Dark Vortex
1985, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 66 in.

Since 1968, when he began painting and the pursuit of his own visual language, Mains really hit his stride with the painting Dark Vortex (1986), which depicts an explosive, swirling portal between two worlds. From this abstracted rabbit hole the viewer is situated in the lower part of the reddish instability, or darkened recesses of the unconscious and gazes out and up towards blues skies of potential calm and serenity. Over time, this visual dyad morphs into a triad between the carnal, cerebral, and mystical.

Lamentation Triptych
2000 - 2007, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 150 in.

In much of his recent imagery, Mains takes on a religious flavor with depictions of tortured human forms bound or distracted by temptations of this world while striving for (or failing to reach) the Buddhist's nirvana, Hindu's moksha, or the Theosophist's Summerland. In Lamentation Triptych (2000-07), a post-apple, faceless Adam and Eve are each enveloped in a snake-like vine while flanking a large image of hundreds of severed and wounded limbs tied together in a swirl of defeat framing an inner light. Beset by Demons (2010), seems to be his nod to renaissance painters like Michelangelo and Sasetta and their portrayals of the temptations of Saint Anthony. The central figure has closed eyes and a calm expression while his body seems to bask in a warm, divine glow as the monsters claw at his flesh.

Beset by Demons
2010, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 48 in.

Mains' addresses mortality head on, and there are references to life or a consciousness beyond this reality in the presence of a portal into another world with clear skies and tranquil waters. According to Mains, from a quote in an interview with Simon Herbert for Art Ltd (Jan., 2008), "I like to create an otherworldly or metaphysical reality to enhance magic sensibility." He admits to the work being epic and operatic. Death is depicted as a powerful transformation from flesh to new life.

Definitely challenging and in some cases gruesome, Mains understands this about his work, as discussed in his interview with Herbert. "I don't pay much attention to how it fits into the wider art world. I have my own inner voice and language, and I trust myself. There's no veracity in factoring in other things, you just hope that people experience the work and find it meaningful," With his inner authority, understanding of history, symbolism, and allegory, combined with his technical ability developed over 47 years, Mains has found a way to create complex, layered, and relevant images about the human condition, a difficult task in any age for any artist.

- Meg Linton

Meg Linton served from 2003-14 as Director of Galleries and Exhibitions at the Ben Maltz Gallery, Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles. Over the last 20 years she has also organized exhibitions for the Laguna Art Museum, the Instituto Cultural de Cabaņas in Guadalajara, the University Art Museum at CSU Long Beach, and the Santa Barbara Contemporary Arts Forum.

Reprinted courtesy of Meg Linton.
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