I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Bruna Massadas, who is currently based in Oakland, CA. I began following her work after coming across some pieces from her Telephone series on social media, and instantly was hooked. She works in a variety of media and is currently creating an animated film called Novela.
Sadie Spies, 2016, oil pastel on paper, 14 X 17 inches
GB: The people in your Telephone series find themselves in a wide variety of familiar yet zany situations. What role does playfulness and humor have in your work?
BM: I want to find humor in the things I create—mostly because the nature of humor includes authenticity: something funny makes one react physically, with laughter or a smile. I see laughter as this incredible powerful bodily reaction that is the result of a deeper understanding of what’s seen; it’s about understanding something that goes beyond verbal communication. The work needs to at least tickle me in some way. I don’t think everything I make is funny or that others need to think it’s funny, but I think it’s important that everything I make feels authentic to me. Humor is one of the ways that I am able to access authenticity. I am not trying to be funny, but it just happens. It’s where my brain goes.
Camellia Takes a Selfie at the Country Club, 2016, oil pastel on paper, 14 X 17 inches
GB: Your Telephone series can be read as portraits, but break from some typical conventions of portraiture. Do you consider the series to be portraits, narratives, or something else entirely?
BM: The Telephone series developed organically; I never “conceptualize” a work before I make it. The words to describe or understand a piece or a body of work always come afterwards—from observing the work. I make a piece or a few pieces and then I consider what’s taking place. A great example of the way I make art is how I started with the Telephone series. The first drawing I made for that series depicted—obviously—a woman on the phone, but after I was done something odd happened: I could almost hear the woman saying “Hello, dear!” with an English accent. This was a turning point to me. I understood that painting portraits with the aid of a strong narrative—where I am using objects, clothing, and background—could create characters that carry a certain history with them. To answer your question more straightforwardly, I see them as both narratives and portraits but I don’t really care about how they are described too much.
Linda Gets Caught Playing Solitaire, 2015, oil pastel on paper, 14 X 17 inches
GB: In your work, the phone is used as both an element of interruption as well as a means of communication. How do you use this contrast to explore the effects that our hyper-connected culture has on our daily lives?
BM: I know that’s a possible way to read my work: that it could be some kind of social commentary on technology; that my pieces are painting versions of the series “Black Mirror.” But, with all honesty, that is not what interests me, so I can’t say much related to that. My personal connection with this body of work is about language; it’s about what happens when you can’t get meaning from what you hear but only what you see. I don’t expect people to read into that. That’s just how the narrative of this work feels most honest. This is not to say that I don’t have a complicated relationship with technology: I am obsessed with Instagram and my crappy Metro PCS phone, and I don’t think this obsession is very healthy. So, maybe I am painting my obsession, too.
Gail Calls the Office, 2016, oil pastel on paper, 14 X 17 inches
GB: How has working on your upcoming film Novela affected your approach to drawing? Has time, movement, and sound considerations influenced your how you draw?
BM: I think the Novela drawings—the 16 pieces that inspired the film—felt like the first time I was making something that felt truly authentic to me. When I look back, I see that the work I made before had glimpses of authenticity, but felt more like a tool to please others (academia and art opportunities). I think art worth making needs to come from an essential part of oneself and that stuff is hard to figure out. I carry that with me now with other projects.
I am not really sure how film as a medium has influenced my paintings and drawings. This is all new to me and I am still trying to figure out as I make the movie. I can say, though, that making the movie is definitely making me consider sound/dialogue in my works. The Telephone series is all about the sound you can’t hear.
Laura Asks for Directions, 2015, oil pastel on paper, 14 X 17 inches
GB: How did you arrive at choosing animation as the medium for Novela, and how has collaboration played into this process?
BM: At first I chose to create a frame-by-frame animation mostly because I have these skills: I can draw and I am good with computers. Okay, the answer is not so practical: drawing and painting is the way I experience the world and express myself. The process of making this project is a personal endeavor. Although I will be collaborating with artists that can do better than me in certain areas like sound design and animation, I want to keep the process as close to me as possible. Making an animation allows me to do just that.
Kim Texting in the Club, 2015, oil pastel on paper, 14 X 17 inches
GB: Do you have any studio rituals before you begin working?
BM: My studio is not very glamorous right now: it’s slightly stinky, it’s small, and it has pretty bad lighting. So my #1 rule to myself is: a clean studio! I need to feel comfortable in a space to make art.
Carole Accidentally Touches a Pop-Pop, 2016, oil pastel on paper, 14 X 17 inches
GB: Podcasts VS Music VS Silence– which wins out in the studio?
BM: Silence. My studio is in Oakland and after the Ghost Ship Fire, I need to be aware of my surrounding in my studio building. It is not uncommon for me to think about death while making art; maybe that’s why art needs to feel so honest to me.
You can check out more of Bruna Massada’s work here: http://brunamassadas.com/
Check out Greg Burak’s interview with us here: https://commandzine.com/2016/11/24/greg-burak-interview/