By Cathie M. Mayne and Jessie Mayne '08
Jessie and I interviewed Randolph lifer Cole Bryant '11 at The Garage in Southside Birmingham. Dressed in his favorite shoes and paint-splattered jeans, he looked as if he had just put down a paintbrush. His wiry build and casual clothing didn’t make him stand out. His hazel hawk eyes, though, give him away. Those sharp eyes watch and see details most of us might miss.
It’s that attention to detail and determination which have helped him create a freelance art career. And, his years at Randolph gave him a good base for launching himself on that path.
“In high school, I wanted to pursue things beyond the regular projects we were assigned,” he affirmed. “We didn’t have an art history class but there were art history books. I would read them between classes and then talk about them with my teachers. That impacted me because analyzing past artists’ processes and their lives was a catalyst for finding my style or voice. Having teachers who had artistic backgrounds was really important.”
Cole also studied art history in college. After three years at Auburn he was offered a job as a full-time graphic designer in a print shop creating products for the university. “I decided to take a semester off to make sure that this was what I want to do. I ended up being pretty good at it and stayed a year and a half.”
Another job offer led him to Portland, Ore., where he worked as a graphic designer and as an assistant creative director for a contemporary gallery created by former Nike employees. The gallery featured pieces from all around the world. “Portland is beautiful especially during the summer. You really, really need to go – summer is key,” Cole exclaimed.
However, he missed family and friends. He returned to the South and worked for Yellowhammer Creative in Birmingham, but is now happy to be a freelancer. He sells by word-of-mouth, Internet, and lots of random odd jobs.
“I like the freedom a lot. It’s hard sometimes when I work on freelance projects because I don’t have a regimen of going to work and being able to bounce ideas off coworkers but, at the same time, I do like working on them alone and being my own boss.”
Was there any one time or event at Randolph that helped shape his current artistic practice?
“The AP art classes and having to complete a concentration taught me early on to delve into the conceptual aspects of my work,” Cole responded. “Up to that point I’d never worked on a project as in-depth. To this day when I make personal work I’ll still make concentrations just like those AP classes. I have a concept in my head, I make a series of works, and it develops as I make it.”
Does your style pull from your art history background?
“It’s inevitable. That’s just going to happen. That was my emphasis and it’s going to come out in my work whether I’m aware of it or not. I studied those processes to affect my process. At least I hope that’s the case.”
Favorite artist or major influence?
“I couldn’t say, but I do pull from Tadashi Ueda, a Japanese designer I really admire.”
Best advice to young artists?
His eyes narrowed and he leaned forward for emphasis. “Just work. All the time. If you want to be an artist, don’t stop drawing or painting or sculpting or performing. All the time. Focus on your craft. That’s all that matters.
“One thing that I’ve learned is that even when you don’t want to do it – even if it feels completely wrong and your body rejects it, and you think ‘Everything I draw is _____,’ don’t worry about it. Just keep pushing through. And, eventually sometimes you might surprise yourself. Yeah, I’ve surprised myself sometimes.”
Why should someone go to Randolph school?
“I feel very strongly that it’s a fantastic place. I didn’t think about it until I was gone. I thought recently about how much I took it for granted. I had no idea about how talented my teachers were. Looking back, they were so inspiring and nurturing.”
Cole’s current favorite working medium is digital. “I think it’s an underdeveloped medium in a lot ways. Some of the software I use has been around for a long time, but it’s being used for logos and flyers.” He wanted to explore using it for a gallery setting. “I’d always been interested in how artists in the past could portray an evocative gesture or action through an image. Digital medium feels a bit sterile or dry – vs oil or charcoal – ‘cause it’s flat. How can I transfer a similar feeling from gestural, responsive mediums to digital media?”
To learn more about Cole's work, visit his website. Also, Cole’s work will be on display at the Alumni Art Show, which will be installed in August and be on view until November 2017. The other artists in the show are: Andrew Stewart ’12, Cullen Gardepe ’07, and Courtney Penney Allen ’97.
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