The Hybrid Identities of AM DeBrincat

Brooklyn-based artist AM Debrincat takes me on a journey through her concept of Hybrid Identities, which drives the content of her vibrant social commentaries.

Published: January 31, 2017Words: J. Scott Stratton & AM DeBrincatArtist Link:

Sometimes I find it quite difficult, to not use the platform of Blacklisted as a pulpit from to rage against the injustices of the world, but recently I found myself in a rather dystopian conversation with someone who was about 20 years my junior, which caused me to step back from the immediate and start to contemplate a bigger picture.

It dawned on me that every generation has a tendency to come to the conclusion that the time of “their generation” is the worst the human species has ever been or will ever know. When you think about both the marvels and atrocities that come before us, it quite egotistical to think that the here and now is the most grandiose.

I remember zoning out a little during the conversation because I could almost hear myself speaking. Although, in my words, it was 1999, and I was raving about the news outlets corrupting facts regarding the WTO Ministerial Conference prior to Battle of Seattle.

Looking back at this conversation in hindsight, it was quite rude of me to allow my mind to wander, but I became aware in that moment that I don’t feel that this is the strangest it’s ever been for our species, nor will ever be. And as I sat there in that moment, my mind made this remarkable leap (as only minds can do) from the conversation at hand to art. In that moment I found it both interesting and hopeful that there always has, and always will be, artists that use the bizarre human and social condition of their generation as fodder for work. Basically, if we did not do extraordinarily horrendous, stupid, ridiculous or satirical things as a species, our capacity for art would be rather mediocre.

If I had asked Brooklyn-based artist AM DeBrincat if she saw herself in the same category of previous artists famous for their social commentary—Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keefe, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the like—she probably would have shied away from the question. Because, who wants that kind of pressure, really?

But my point is this “too long, didn’t read” rant is not to compare artists—nor was it the point in the following interview with DeBrincat—but simply to point out as a species, we have always been involved in atrocious, silly, bizarre or disgusting acts of self-deprivation that have given artists a muse for their work.

DeBrincat works from a concept she has developed called Hybrid Identities, which fuels the processes, mediums and subject matter for her work. It is centered on exploring and investigating our current fascination with the fabrication and maintenance of our digital selves. Her multi-media paintings are an assemblage of multiple styles that are both analog and digital and parallel the lives that we live—which exist both in a virtual reality and a physical reality.

Her work leads me to ponder a fundamental question on who we are at this point. In our lives, who is to say which of our realities, virtual or physical, has more truth? With digital communities forcing us to rewrite what it means to be “social”, with health craze and selfie-culture rewriting beauty ideals, and technology blurring the lines between physical and virtual, we are at a point where we are fabricating our own evolution—and DeBrincat is documenting our change in vibrantly beautiful, yet haunting, way.

Can you elaborate a little on this concept of Hybrid Identities?

Yes, the concept of Hybrid Identities fuels all my work. Digital culture is rapidly transforming our relationship to ourselves and how we present ourselves to others. The idea of hybrid identities feels so relevant right now because we’ve all become multiples of ourselves, encompassing online and offline identities, each of which has many facets. The ways these online and offline personas overlap and merge define who we are and shape our understanding of ourselves.

This is primarily a visual phenomenon – cell phones, social media, and selfie culture have transformed each of us into compulsive amateur photographers, documenting ourselves and our daily lives endlessly. In the process, our endless stream of photos is transforming what portraiture is, redefining its basic function, and making it more relevant (and public) than ever.

As an artist creating images of people, my work feels most alive when it explores all of this. I think this idea permeates all of my work – as someone who is fascinated with identity, portraiture, and how we present ourselves to others, it feels like a central concept.

When did you begin to formulate this style, which is an assemblage of some many mediums in one?

I think my style begin to take root when I was in grad school. It was a time of such intense visual experimentation, and I began to incorporate photography and screen printing into my paintings. Then at a certain point a few years ago, I switched from screen printing to Xerox transfer printing, which I prefer because it’s faster, more immediate, and more flexible and adaptive than screen printing. I can improvise more with it, which I love.

Portraiture felt too far-ranging and multiple for just painting to hold it. So incorporating photography and printmaking into my paintings seemed like a natural response to this. I wanted to open up the language of painting in my work so that it could contain other conversations as well. Now I think of my work as a dialogue between painting, printmaking, and photography.

Everything I experience as I go through my days probably ends up in some form or another in my work. The painter Francis Bacon had this theory that his mind was a meat grinder taking in everything he saw, heard, felt, and grinding it up and expelling it as his work. I think this happens to every artist on some level. Their work becomes an extension of the life they’re living and what they’re thinking at any given time.

Can you take me through your process when you begin a piece?

My process begins at the computer, where I delve into this giant (and always expanding) archive of photos that I have – photos I’ve collected from so many sources, including historical portrait photography, commercial advertising, social media, online image searches, and photos I’ve taken of things that have caught my eye while walking around the city.

From this image archive, I piece together a digital composition of up to 50 photos knitted into a somewhat (?) seamless composition….Then my work moves to the canvas.

Next, I take this digital image I’ve created and remove the face. Then I use Xerox transfer printing to put this image onto the surface of my canvas. Xerox transferring printing is this really immediate, old-school form of printmaking that takes the toner from a Xerox image and transfers it to a surface (in this case, the surface of my canvas). It has this really old-school, punk rock, the DIY flavor which I love, but as I continue to work with it, I find it can also be surprisingly nuanced and detailed. It’s a printmaking method that continues to fascinate me the more I work with it.

I then enhance and alter the transferred image with colored pencil and acrylic paint. Sometimes I tint areas of the transfer print in a method similar to the way someone would have hand-tinted a photograph a century ago.

The last step is painting the face or faces – I always leave this part until the very end and I always feel like a jeweler fitting a diamond into an elaborate mount. Will I mess it up and have ruined days or weeks of work? I think this stress and fear of failing keeps me invested in the process and keeps the faces fresh. I always paint the faces in oil paint, and once I’m done with them I never go back into the painting – at that point, it’s done.

At one point in my travels, I got a large tattoo of an octopus, and the tattoo artist waited until the very last moment to fill in the eye. I asked him about it and he said that he had to wait until the end to create the eye and ‘animate the creature.’ I guess it’s a similar logic that makes me wait until the very end to paint the faces.

Beyond your visual arts, you are also the founder of ArtFile Magazine. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

ArtFile Magazine is an online art journal that publishes in-depth artist interviews with artists working all over the world. We also publish exhibition reviews and occasionally publish other projects which exist at the intersection of art and writing.

I founded ArtFile Magazine when I’d been out of grad school for a little while and was missing the kind of in-depth studio conversations that seem to happen all the time in grad school and not as much after. I was constantly engaging with artists who were making amazing work, and I wanted a forum where I could bring attention to what they were creating.

I’m the founder and publisher of ArtFile, but I’m joined in this project by an ever-expanding group of contributing writers and other dedicated staff. It’s been a really rewarding project, and I’m curious to see where the future will take us.

How do you split your time between managing the magazine and your own creative endeavors?

That’s definitely a challenge! But I always think it’s better to be way too busy than not busy enough. My art career has gotten increasingly hectic and demanding, and there seems to be more and more on the horizon. Which is great, but there is less and less time for ArtFile. But it’s always a dialogue between how much time I have and how I choose to divide my time between everything, and I expect that ArtFile Magazine will continue to be part of the mix, no matter how busy things get.