Her and World, In Black And White
An in-depth conversation about art and approach with Dallas illustrator, Brie Underhill
Brittany Griffiths | 25 June 2018
Every night I dream of the same thing
…the same listless eyes refusing to look at me.
[excerpt from Expergefaciphobia]
As the art scene in Dallas continues to grow, more and more artists have risen to the surface, gaining an increased level of exposure. Over the last couple of years, artist Brie Underhill has begun to stand out from the rest. I can still remember when our creative director, Will Latham, first brought Brie to my attention. You’ve got to meet this girl. She’s outstanding. He wasn’t wrong.
Brie is an illustrator, comic, and installation artist whose work is notable for its fine-detailed, black and white dreamscapes that seem to have a way of sucking the reader in and refusing to let go. It’s highly likely you’ve seen her around town working out in public at East Bound and Down or Cultivar (a coffee shop in Oak Cliff where she recently had her illustrations framed and on display). In fact, Brie pulls a lot from her environment playing off of floating conversations and finding inspiration in things not directly related to comics. Take for instance film, "I feel like there is a really big cinematic quality to comics.” Her tactful use of cinematic devices like frame control and arranging text to mirror subtitles lends to the originality and uniqueness of her comics by placing emphasis on the images rather than the words. Just like in animation, the more frames that are drawn the slower the image, and through this she can steer the reader in a direction of focus without littering the page with sprawling sentences or the wordy visualization of sound. In her comics, the images dictate the story.
I first encountered Brie’s work at the end of last summer, around the time of the release of her comic Expergefaciphobia, published by Falcor Publishing. The comic opens up with a video manipulated image on the inside cover, and on the adjacent page written in white ink against solid black background:
I had this dream where all of my edges were soft, and my skin was like tissue.
Every one person was indistinguishable from the next.
“It’s a very line-driven, black and white world that I’ve created,” says Brie of World, the name she has appropriately chosen for the reoccurring landscape featured in her illustrations. Expergefaciphobia is about the fear of waking up, and the elicited transition between dream and being awake. There is a sensibility developed throughout the comic that the main character is afraid to snap out of the dream, enveloped in this vast vacuum of black space. The use of empty black space is a key component in the majority of Brie’s illustrations, and in that space the reader is given room to imprint him or herself onto the page. “In all my pages, I just have this giant wall of black, it’s supposed to draw attention to the words or characters in the frame.” Employing sparse text in tandem with a complete command over the pace of each frame, Brie creates a feeling of longing and introspection. “There’s this image in the Seventh Seal where death is on the beach and he has his arm outstretched and it’s just this giant mass of black… in Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, there is a very similar depiction… just that giant color field of black as always been a huge inspiration.”
Another item of discussion is the black monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey (a colossal film in and of itself). “It’s this monolithic important character that doesn’t even have to say anything; just the presence alone means something.” This is a technique Brie has taken, refigured, and developed to suit her own needs. Through body language and the careful sequencing of frames, Brie can portray the ideas and thoughts of a character without implementing an onslaught of dialogue, “It’s a relationship between the words and the way the character is holding her body… I want people to gather information from the way her hands are being held.” This indirect communication packs a punch, and through her art Brie is able to focus in on the details of life, both internal and external, illuminating the beauty and sadness of life that the mind creates and the dialogue and images that are born from it.
Over time, Brie has developed a clarity of direction, one in which few artists have, though many seek to attain. After graduating from the University of Dallas in 2014 with a BA in Studio Art and Sculpture, she was stuck between a rock and a hard place because she no longer had the tools and materials to sculpt. So she fell back into illustrations. “The [first] physical evidence that I have when I started was at three. I don’t remember back that far, but my mom has pictures framed from when I was three years old in the laundry room.”
Brie’s parents recognized immediately that she had a proclivity for art and began enrolling her in classes. She remembers going to her grandparent's house after school, where her grandfather would entertain her with comics and word puzzles clipped from the daily newspaper. From that point forward, Brie’s family, her mother especially, never wavered in their encouragement. “She [Brie's mother] was one of the people that pushed me the most. She just wanted me to be happy.”
Though Brie believes she would have gravitated toward art without the overwhelming support of her family, she notes that she may not have seen it has a viable career to pursue. This passion and relentless drive to make it as an artist is just one of many things that separates Brie from other artists in Dallas. From participating in art exhibitions and zine fests to designing show posters for local bands and writing comics and graphic novels, she is always working, constantly setting things in motion. Brie comments on maintaining a steady pace in output and preserving momentum from one idea to the next, “Consistency to me is one of the most important things on the planet.” Despite attempts at convincing herself to take a break after completing a project, she always finds herself in the thick of things, drawing. She can’t seem to stop. Even after a heavy month where she participated in three separate art shows, the next day she was back at it, pen in hand. “I think it’s that renewed feeling of like, okay I’m not creating something for a show, but I’m making something for myself or for someone to enjoy.”
Brie is also one of the biggest advocates for unseen local artists. She has future plans in the works to obtain a studio space where she can host a curated selection of art and comics. “It’s really hard in Dallas, especially for artists who are always working. It’s hard to network when you’re in the studio constantly.” Brie finds herself attracted to artists who are maintaining a constant output of artwork and who have a need and want to make art. “You have to have a drive. If I see an artist who is doing the art to make the art and to have an effect on people… that’s art that’s worth being made and worth being shown.” There are a lot of artists in Dallas that Brie thinks fits this criteria; artist who are trying new things and who have the desire, passion, and will to create as a means of expression.
This approach of communal support in an attempt to lift up other artists who, despite having unmistakable talent, have the inability to network is exactly what Dallas needs and has been desperately searching for. Though Brie is modest in acknowledging the role she plays within the scene, her contribution is undeniable. Her passion and support for the local art scene and her knack for spotting quality artists, is highly inspirational and other artists specializing in a wide variety of mediums are feeding off of the energy she is putting back into the scene. I have spoken with many people about Brie over the past year, and every single one of them ardently plugs Brie not only for the quality and originality of her work, but for her willingness and enthusiasm in building connections between creatives in Dallas. It's genuine, passionate artists like Brie whose unrelenting love of art will help mark Dallas on the map as a welcome home for artists. “It’s the one thing that makes me really, really happy and without it I kind of crumble and turn into a toad… This is what I’m meant to do. This is what makes me happy.”
Brie is currently working on several projects including a graphic novel and a poetry publication where her illustrations will be paired side-by-side with a number of poems.
Connect With Brie Underhill
Brittany Griffiths is a writer from Dallas, Texas. She is the founder and editor of Spontaneous Afflatus, an independent publishing house that specializes in poetry and short story collections. She is also the editor of Wavelength Magazine. Last year she released her debut poetry collection titled, Ebb & Flow.
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