Beer, babes, beaches and butts - 'getting naked', as he says, is a crucial part of the artistic process for this Brooklyn-based artist. A rising star on the New York art scene, Todd Bienvenu was born in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1980. Sex, hedonism and humour pervade his autobiographical paintings. In our interview, we discuss the subconscious process of his painting, unlearning what he was taught at art school and 'chasing the horizon'.
Mama Don't Let Your Babies. Todd Bienvenu. 2016.
When did you first realise that creating was something you absolutely had to do?
I think it was always part of me. My Mom has a story of me when I was little. I was my Mom’s first kid and she says that she didn’t know that my kid drawings were anything special, until I got to kindergarten and the teacher told her I was gifted artistically. She thought all kids drew the way I did.
Dive. Todd Bienvenu. 2015
Would you say that you were self-taught?
I have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in painting from Louisiana State University and then went to the New York Studio School, so I have seven years' of studio arts training. Having said that, I’m not sure that art school can teach you to be an artist. If you listen too well, you become an acolyte. It does introduce you to working artists; it also compresses the time and builds a network of peers. But I think all artists are self-taught. I tried to forget what I learned.
Stargazer. Todd Bienvenu. 2016.
Did you try your hand at any other jobs, before becoming an artist?
I’m intentionally unemployable - I don’t want a plan B. Over the years, I’ve worked at Jiffy Lube, waited tables, delivered pizza, fabricated window displays for high-end fashion, built furniture... I don’t enjoy working for someone else, so I try really hard not to.
Nap Time. Todd Bienvenu. 2016.
Would you say that your work is autobiographical?
Is it important to you to make yourself completely vulnerable when creating your paintings, even if it may be a struggle to do so?
It’s only important to get naked if you want the paintings to be any good. It’d be a greater struggle to make crappy paintings than to get vulnerable. I don’t enjoy going to my art openings - that’s when the vulnerability sucks.
Backseat. Todd Bienvenu. 2013.
What are you currently inspired by and how is it feeding into your work?
I have a few themes going through the work right now. Butts and shadows might be the most obvious ones. I keep having ideas that deal with one or both of them. When I put a shadow on a butt for the first time, it was very exciting.
Shadow Butt. Todd Bienvenu. 2016.
How do you think your painting has evolved over time?
I think it’s gotten more sophisticated. Deeper. But you are who you are. My Mom framed my early works and has them hanging up in their house. I go back for the holidays from Brooklyn, where I’ve been painting bearded dudes in dark bars and babes at the beach and she has my undergrad copies of a Rembrandt bearded dude in a dark room and a Diebenkorn of a lady at the beach!
Baby Rembrandt. Todd Bienvenu. 2015.
Is there a place that you go to refresh your mind and seek inspiration?
The studio. I never have any ideas until I start making something. If it’s crappy, I’ll go the other way. If it’s good, it feeds the work and gives me more ideas.
What's the most indispensable item in your work studio?
I’ve got a big glass palette that Bill Jensen gave me. I love it for practical and sentimental reasons.
Beach Shadow. Todd Bienvenu. 2016.
Do you have any rituals that you follow when you’re painting, or is it very spontaneous?
It's spontaneous - I don’t know what I’m going to do until it happens. At the end of a good day, I look around and don’t know where all the stuff came from. It happened in an unconscious state of mind.
Venetian. Todd Bienvenu. 2016.
Is there a painting that you’ve sold that you wish you could have back?
Nah. I’m excited about the thing I’m working on, not the stuff I’ve already done. The work feels like a long chain leading towards this thing that I’ll make someday - each work inching a bit closer to saying what it is I’ve been trying to get out. I’m chasing the horizon.
Is there one of your works that you’re particularly proud of?
I’m in love with the painting right when I finish. A month later I can see its faults. A couple years later I love it again the way people love an old tattoo. It reminds me of who I was at the time I made it.
What do you dislike about the art world?
There doesn’t seem to be a middle class.
Pizzabutt. Todd Bienvenu. 2016.
If you could add a piece of artwork, from any period, to your collection, which piece would you choose?
A late Rembrandt self portrait.
Pink and Blue Head. Todd Bienvenu. 2014.
Lotto. Todd Bienvenu. 2014.
If you could put a spotlight on an emerging artist that you think deserves it, who would you choose?
Mandy Lyn Ford is a badass.
If you could have dinner with one artist from history tonight in New York, alive or dead, who would it be and where would you take them?
I’d take Phillip Guston out for Italian.
Exile on Bogart Street. Todd Bienvenu. 2015.
What do you love most about living in New York?
The people - all the weirdos moved to one place to party and build things together.