HENSE: From Graffiti to City-Scaled Murals

HENSE the Name

Atlanta artist Alex Brewer combines fine art, graffiti, and a graphic sensibility in his city-scaled murals. He'll be a featured speaker at the 2014 SEGD Conference June 5-7!

HENSE, aka Alex Brewer, made his name as a graffiti artist and now works as a fine artist and urban muralist, combining the technique and vocabulary of graffiti with the formal technique of abstract painting. He has been commissioned to paint on buildings, highway supports, and reclaimed spaces in cities around the world. He lives and works in Atlanta and will be a featured speaker at the 2014 SEGD Conference: Convergence in Atlanta June 5-7.

HENSE took a few minutes recently to speak with eg magazine.

When did you first know you wanted to be an artist? 

I've been creating drawings and paintings since I was very young. I was exposed to creativity early on through my parents. They both had a background in interior design and architecture, which led me to have a strong interest in the creative fields.

When I was young I always enjoyed visiting museums and seeing paintings and drawings as well as sculptures. I think those early sources of inspiration contributed to my wanting to be creative.

How did you get into street art and what was your first tag?

I discovered graffiti in 1992. My first tag was "Stoop," which is pretty hilarious to think about now. I starting writing "Hense" maybe a year later in 1993 and stuck with that throughout the years. I liked the letter combination and they way they flowed. I also liked that it had a real meaning and wasn't just an arbitrary word. I worked on my letters and mastering the use of spray paint by painting abandoned buildings in Atlanta for several years. I also worked on paintings in my studio as well during those years working as a graffiti artist.

How did your work transition from the streets to the studio and then to paid commissions?

From 1992 on I threw myself into the world of working outdoors and on multiple surfaces. I studied art at Virginia Commonwealth University briefly and dropped out to pursue my work in the street. In 2000 I got a job working at an art publishing company that had an in-house art studio full of all the materials I would need to experiment in creating work. I worked for the company for several years developing works for them and for myself, while simultaneously going out to paint the streets at night. I learned about scale and working outdoors through street work and I learned about painting and developing my studio practice by working with the company. I always took on my own projects or exhibitions on the side and got to a point of being really busy with my work to shift focus entirely on my studio and commissions. 

I currently split my time traveling for public art projects and working in my studio. I like to keep a good balance of studio time creating new work and being outdoors working on projects.

Your outdoor work in particular is often quite graphic. What are your influences?

I draw inspiration from a lot of different sources. I look at contemporary painters working today, modernism, post modernism, abstract expressionism, and minimalism as well as graffiti culture. Graphic design, interior design, and architecture are also huge sources of inspiration. 

What do you feel work like yours adds to the urban environment?

I like to consider the architecture and context in which my work will be viewed. I think public art in many forms can be a great addition to public space in an urban setting. My work explores relationships between shapes, forms, and color as well as spontaneous mark-making and line quality. I'm interested in how these elements relate to each other, but also in how they can interact with the architecture in a public environment.

I also enjoy my work being viewed outside of the "white cube" gallery setting. I get similar satisfaction creating a public work as I do exhibiting a body of work in a gallery. In fact, I tend to lean toward works in public space as my form of exhibiting. I'm also currently exploring spatially interactive sculptures and installations using hand-cut wood shapes and cinder blocks.

What is your creative process like for a commissioned piece?

I tend to create preliminary images to get ideas, but I always like to leave room for a period of exploration while working. The spontaneous marks and lines are part of my process. I'll use Photoshop to create mock-ups. I'll overlay my screen prints or paintings on top of buildings and walls to get new ideas. I'll also draw on the computer and use that as a tool for getting concepts for new lines or shapes. My color selection is generally somewhat predetermined. I'll select colors that I think work well together and sometimes mix or add additional colors as I work.

Can you tell us about your current work?

I'm currently working in the studio on a new series of screen prints on paper and paintings on wood. The screen prints are monoprints, all unique and original works on paper. Not one print is identical. I've also created editions but these monoprints are really just works on paper exploring new shapes and elements as well as color combinations. I'll draw my designs on transparency paper in black ink or acrylic and use those to burn screens. I'll have multiple screens to select from while working. I'll decide what to use next after I print an element.

Sometimes these pieces get to a finished state quickly and other times they take a while to complete. I'm also working on new paintings and continuing to explore mark-making and scale. Right now I'm cutting large shapes out of plywood and creating sculptures with them and I'm also stacking painted cinderblocks in public spaces. 

What are your favorite recent projects and why?

I really enjoyed my mural in Lima, Peru, and the church I painted in Washington, D.C. These have been two stand-out projects because the scale and location of both were very dynamic—and challenging.

Looking ahead, are there new artistic horizons you'd like to explore?

I'd like to continue to explore scale and material with the public art installations as well as move into more sculptural explorations for interior and exterior installations. I also want to continue to grow within painting and continue to push viewers with my exhibits. I have some exciting projects on the horizon in 2014 that deal with some of these new directions.

What would your ideal project be?

Probably an installation and exhibition at a major museum or institution. 

What inspires you in general?

I’m generally inspired by other contemporary artists working today as well as design, web, fashion, modernism, painting, architecture, and travel. I'd say that creativity in general really inspires me daily. I wake up every morning wanting to be creative. 

What's it like living in and working out of Atlanta? Is that a barrier or an advantage?

I love having my studio in Atlanta. I can keep studio and business costs reasonable and travel whenever I need to for projects or vacation. Atlanta is growing within the arts and we have some great artists working here now, so it's been an exciting place to be a part of. 

Where can we see your work in Atlanta?

I have several public art pieces in the city—South Broad Street in downtown Atlanta, Arizona Avenue, and the new Fay Gold Gallery / WestSide Cultural Arts Center in Midtown West to name a few.


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