Brent Ray Fraser’s rural Langley studio is like something out of a movie. Not a Hollywood blockbuster, mind you. No, this has more in common with a crazy art house film.
The 33-year-old painter works in a converted grain silo not far from Fort Langley, but the interior of the green metal cylinder could not be less indicative of its farming roots.
Every inch of interior wall space, as well as much of the floor and ceiling, is covered with a veritable hodgepodge of (there’s really no other word for it) stuff — reminders of the artist’s youth, remnants of some past creative endeavor or inspiration for the next.
“I always wanted a …”
It’s a phrase the artist repeats several times as he asked about the contents of the studio — whether it’s the circa 1980s arcade game standing against one wall, the working pay phone (there’s no cell reception inside the metal tube) the shelves lined with lava lamps, the cluster of working disco balls on the ceiling or the cabinet filled with all the different types of candy he favoured as a kid.
“It’s nostalgic candy from the 1980s, I did a whole series based on candy,” says Fraser.
That’s how he works, he explains. He picks a subject and exhausts it.
“I have a bit of an addictive personality. I’m a bit obsessive,” he says with a laugh.
To underscore the point he gestures to the 2,364 black zip ties he has affixed to a piece of mesh and wrapped around a wooden post.
Then there is the collection of old muffin tins — many tacked to the ceiling, others stacked on the floor —not to mention the curious array of dolls and silk flowers, a 1910 piano he was given and a dozen or so wedding dresses he’s collected over the years.
“I call it orchestrated madness . . . It’s an ongoing process, this place,” says Fraser.
But it’s not all candy and disco balls. Draped over the back of a red velvet sofa are half a dozen real fox tails that came off a pair of leather chaps he once used in a photo shoot; a few ammunition belts hang from the rafters.
Several black plastic guns — which look frighteningly authentic to the untrained eye — and at least two gas masks round out the strange collection.
“I like the beauty in things, but I also like the gruesome part of life. It’s part of human nature,” says Fraser.
“I like the duality in art — that things have a double meaning.”
It’s that whole ‘can’t judge a book by its cover’ thing he enjoys.
That axiom applies to the artist himself. Fraser looks like the picture of health — he’s young and fit, unfailingly upbeat and open.
But in fact, his kidneys are failing and he is waiting for a transplant that may or may not come.
“I’m constantly thinking about the inevitable,” says Fraser.
A pair of giant skull paintings dominate two walls of his upstairs studio — just a couple examples of a subject that has occupied his thoughts over the past few years.
They signify not only mortality, the artist says, but are something that connects everyone.
And it’s his art that connects him to the outside world, Fraser admits.
“I’m actually really shy, but art helps me open up to people.
“The artwork is you — you put yourself up on the wall, pretty much,” he says.
Fraser began drawing when he was in Kindergarten. From the outset, he found he had a knack for it — something his classmates quickly discovered.
“I remember during art time (the other kids) would crowd around to see.
“I hated it,” he says.
Today, painting for crowds is a large part of what he does. In fact, the creation of his pieces is an art form in itself.
Working with his back to the audience, he often forgets they’re there, so the crowds aren’t a factor.
Sometimes wearing a white suit, other times, stripped to the waist, he applies paint to the oversized canvases, using his hands as his brushes. Music — usually opera — plays in the background.
He works fast, completing a large painting in two or three hours.
“It keeps me in shape. While I’m up there I’m sweating, I’m burning calories,” he said.
He’s worked on canvases as large as 14-feet by seven-feet, but that gets expensive, so usually he scales it back to six- or seven-foot squares.
When he sets up to paint in Fort Langley’s Gasoline Alley during Cranberry Festival this Saturday, rather than paint to recorded music as he normally does, he will be accompanied by Latin guitarist John Gilliat.
Fraser’s not sure what he will be working on — maybe a new piece or perhaps one he’s already started.
That decision usually comes closer to the day, or even hour, of the actual performance.
“It’s the way the creative process works,” he says.
The Cranberry Festival will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 6. For more information go to cranberryfest.ca. To learn more about the artist, go to brentrayfraser.com.