Interview by Caroline Chandler of Brandi Twilley and Rebecca Twilley
Brandi Twilley is one of my best friends and painting heroes. Brandi’s majestic paintings now share the company of Rebecca Twilley’s visionary works at A.k.a. Gallery in Oklahoma City. The show is large and sprawling. It features a series of oil on linen diptychs of masterfully painted dream catchers and empowered yet psychologically dynamic portraits of Rebecca in the style of magical naturalism painted by Brandi. Her works are enveloped in a morphogenetic field of powerful princesses, dragons, mermaids, castles, and fantastical familiars that comprise the vast lexicon of Rebecca’s vibrantly rich work. Rebecca and Brandi are sisters. Both artists posses the sorcerer’s stone desired by any true artist, namely an uncompromising vision that is whole heartedly intrinsically unique to the inner world of an authentic maker. Rebecca works in a variety of media and has lived in Midwest City, Oklahoma her entire life. Both sisters are wildly prolific. I’m honored to interview them both about their work.
Caroline Chandler: Brandi I have had the privilege of being your friend for six years. We met at Yale in graduate school and became fast friends because you are awesome and we both represented the best parts of Southern realness. As you know, I’ve been a long time lover of ‘The Wizard’ portrait series. The beta version, which we were supposed to trade for and didn’t, much to my chagrin, existed in charcoal. This new ROYGBIV full spectrum diptych of Rebecca as the magician appears to be if I’m not mistaken at sunset and its counterpart at a new dawn. Such a decision reads for me as a fully realized alchemical vision that is integral to what it means to be a true magician, namely the integration of the murky or nebulous aspects of the psyche with the luminous. Tell me more about the formal structure of diptychs in your work and their conceptual implications.
Brandi Twilley: I often make two versions of a painting even if they don’t become a diptych. I like being able to explore two aspects of a subject and not have to decide between two options or cram everything I want into one painting. I have been painting Rebecca in her Wizard T shirt for many years. It is a meaningful image of Rebecca, because for a time that was her favorite T-shirt. Even though she had a lot of clothes she would wear it 200 out of 365 days of the year. She is about 17 in this painting. I painted the first version with the dark blue sky and I was happy with the way that the world of the wizard within the t-shirt seems equal to the outer world. With the second painting with the pink sunset I just wanted to make a painting that felt lighter in terms of color and mood. I was also thinking about how somber my dark palette is and wanted to use some bright color, since I was thinking about my work in relation to Rebecca’s work, for the show. Diptychs can be read as a comparison, as the passage of time, a dialogue, or a second look. They tend to reveal things in each other and reinforce the subtle events in each painting.
Caroline Chandler: You have relayed to me some of the most fantastical dreams one could hope to ever experience. I distinctly remember one in which your power animal was revealed to you as a hybrid between a cat and fox. How do dreams and the visionary experience influence your practice? How do you decide what to make?
Brandi Twilley: Dreams are always a part of my work. Sometimes they are a literal part when I paint images from dreams. Other times I have dreams about my paintings or the subjects of my paintings while they are in progress and I feel like my dreaming self is guiding me along. I usually feel like the decision of what to make is not even a decision. Images, subjects, and narratives tend to be persistent in my thoughts and I can’t ignore them.
Caroline Chandler: I like to think that paintings are the ultimate dream catcher. For this show you painted dream catchers that adorn Rebecca’s creative environment. Why did you choose to focus upon that motif over other potential amulets?
Brandi Twilley: I feel the same way about paintings, that they are the “ultimate dream catchers.” Dream catchers are protectors that catch bad dreams and let you sleep well. I think that out of all of the objects that Rebecca surrounds herself with, such as dragon figurines, unicorns, angels, crystals, daggers, or candles, the dream catcher has meaning for me too. I keep one in my window. I have nightmares and insomnia from time to time.
Caroline Chandler: You are one of the most skilled painters that I know. When I speak of your work to others I tell them that you have the street-cred of a contemporary Northern Renaissance master. I tend to think of your paintings as Bruegel and Titian’s love child with a game changing tenacity that is in lineage with the works of Lisa Yuskavage and John Currin. Who are your heroes and how do they influence what you make?
Brandi Twilley: I am a big fan of Goya, Velasquez, and Degas. I love Titian and Breugel too. I love Sargent, Otto Dix, and Picasso, especially the Blue Period and synthetic cubism. Contemporary artists I like are John Currin and Lisa Yuskavage, Kurt Kauper, and Jospehine Halvorsen. My heroes are all of the great teachers that I have had. Amy Sudarsky was my painting teacher in undergrad. Even though she lives in Boston we still do phone critiques. She is exceptional at looking at and talking about painting. As for influences, these days I am trying to quiet the voices in my head. I try to look and think about work that I like, but I mostly just want to clear the way for myself to make the painting that I need to make.
Caroline Chandler: And you do it so successfully and specific to you! How do you build a painting? What materials are your favorite? What colors and brands do you adore? What are your favorite color combos?
Brandi Twilley: I usually work on a toned or colored ground. I cover the canvas before developing any part of the painting. I often work in layers but I love it when a painting happens in one shot. If I work from life I usually work opaque and direct. If I am working from my head or from a photo I tend to glaze. If I am splurging on paint I buy Williamsburg, Gamblin, or Charvin. I use a lot of student grade paint too. I love hot pink, turquoise, Egyptian Violet, electric blue, very deep blacks, Naples yellow, and cadmium red. They are my weaknesses. I love red and green color combos, although it is hard to pull off. I love mixing ultramarine and pthalo blue together. I also like dead color (muddy grays and browns that read as slop) and exploring that mysterious territory in search of surprises.
Caroline Chandler: What was it like growing up with Rebecca in Oklahoma?
Brandi Twilley: Rebecca is five years younger than me. She was my muse during the years I was first learning to draw portraits. I was much more interested in painting her than my brothers since she’s pretty. I didn’t realize she was an artist herself though at that time. As children we were opposites. She was extroverted and assertive. I was very shy and reserved.
Caroline Chandler: When you go home to visit where do you just have to go to get your eat on?
Brandi Twilley: When I am home visiting I have to visit Braum’s and get cheeseburgers and ice cream, because it is my only chance. I also like to eat at a local diner, Chelio’s for big portions and affordable prices. Seriously though Rebecca and I make damned good chicken fried steaks at home.
Caroline Chandler: Rebecca you have a highly developed vernacular of self possessed powerful princesses, and what I view as their fantastical familiars. Can you tell me more about the powerful protagonists in your prolific paintings and drawings and why you are interested in working with them?
Rebecca Twilley: I believe I live in my art and my art is part of me and the princesses are a reflection of what I believe of myself and lady’s we all are princesses in our own way. When I was little I loved princesses and Barbie dolls and all. It gets in my art through friends and dreams. I created a world of characters with powers and all as a way to feel protected by them in my head. They represent my heart and what I believe are angels and demons at work and warrior princesses and magic happening. I just put color to the invisible world through my heart and imagination. Some comes from just pure belief of a more interesting part of the world like my view of heaven and hell. I am taking from thoughts and dreams and making them real with art. My interest with these characters is to keep my life and my eyes fresh and still believing in new things and creating a neat world that is mine through my art.
Caroline Chandler: Two reoccurring characters in your paintings and drawings are Dino and Nelphinia. Who are Dino and Nelphinia and how do they formally and narratively function in your paintings?
Rebecca Twilley: Dino comes from when I was young I used to try and draw dinosaurs. I would draw them and try to create different characters. He comes from that and Nelphinia comes from a water god and is the element water. She came from a friend of mine, but we are not too close any more, but she was a witch friend. She inspired me to draw her. My art has a family and the characters all have names and go together.
Caroline Chandler: You have a range of works in the show from paintings on canvas to painterly drawings. You are excitingly experimental in your materials to execute your work. You use what appears to be gemstones and in some cases glitter to suggest magical transcendental strange attractors to guide the heroines in your paintings. Opalescent geometric forms reminiscent of a stained glass have a trans-dimensional visionary experience. What are your favorite materials and how do you decide what materials to work with to achieve a desired feeling in your work?
Rebecca Twilley: I always just go out and explore art and try to come up with fresh ideas that are new and I look at a lot of different drawing books and paper and tools. I think about what people would be interested in and I am good with many different types of art like sketching, contour, realistic, and cartoons, anime graphic, and clay. I also love creating jewelry. I am extra creative with things. I love music as well.
Caroline Chandler: Rebecca there is so much exciting symbolism in your work that Karl Jung would adore. How do you go about making and composing your work? Do you think in images first, or are your works planned or intuited through materials, or process- or even perhaps a fusing of all three techniques?
Rebecca Twilley: My art comes from all three techniques and even one more. They come from dreams and visions and people that give me confidence to keep doing what I do with my art and graphic images. I study different art and try to get ideas for more unique art through what I see in my head, dreams, and thoughts of art. I like 3d art work, artwork that pops, and has hidden objects.
Caroline Chandler: Rebecca from a young age I have been a huge fan of mythology, the occult, and magick. You have stated that your works explore, ‘fantasy, fairy tales, heroes, mystical creatures, time travel, dark arts, and Gothic times.’ How did you get into exploring these subjects? Did your interest in them come before your dedication to art making?
Rebecca Twilley: I had a lot of friends that were into magic in high school and they could draw as well. Also I had an interest in the fantasy world, because I used to dream weird. Plus I’ve always had a good imagination so at the library I would always check out books about all kinds of the worldly things you could think of. In a way it was my main interest when I was young. I love mythology. My art and dedication didn’t come before or after. It’s just always all been there since I was little, because even when I was young ya see I’ve always sort of had a spark for both and a sight for things. I believe I’ve seen some magic when I was little but it’s a huge story and I’ll try and keep it simple. Basically for me I have a foresight and vision for my art. I dream some of my art and think a lot about it and it comes out amazing.
Caroline Chandler: I’ve been told that your studio home is adorned in dream catchers. What do dream catchers signify for you?
Rebecca Twilley: They catch the bad dreams so you can sleep better.
Caroline Chandler: What inspires you to make? Who are your favorite artists?
Rebecca Twilley: My sister and Picasso are my favorite artists.
Caroline Chandler: I’ve seen pics of y’all and your siblings making awesome puff paint t-shirts online. What else do you make aside from painting and drawing and how does that influence the work in the show?
Rebecca Twilley: Me and my brothers and sisters make the t-shirts. I make jewelry and know how to make other things too like little bags that close by pulling a string. I haven’t made one of those in a long time. Brandi knows how to make a blanket and scarves. Me and her know how to make hats too. Also when we were little we tried to make Barbie doll clothes. We have done all kinds of things actually. I know how to make magnets and my sister does too. I know how to design and make envelopes too and some other things.
Caroline Chandler: What was it like growing up with Brandi in Oklahoma? Tell me a good story that would embarrass her.
Rebecca Twilley: One time while Brandi was at my house she was about to leave and I was gonna give her a hug and my pants fell off. It was weird. We both laughed. Brandi and me always have a good sense of humor.
Caroline Chandler: I’ve never been to OKC. When you are not making art what do you like to do for fun?
Rebecca Twilley: I love TV and swimming besides art. I love White Water (water park in OKC.)
Brandi Twilley received a BFA from the Art Institute of Boston in 2006 and her MFA from Yale School of Art in 2011. www.branditwilley.com
Rebecca Twilley lives and works in Midwest City, Oklahoma. She has studied at Rose State College.
Caroline Wells Chandler is an artist who lives in New York. www.carolinewellschandler.com
The show runs until August 1st at A.k.a. Gallery in Oklahoma City. The gallery is run by local artist Ashley Griffith and is located at 3001 Paseo, OKC, OK 73103.