Brett Crawford - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle Hong Kong Thursday, December 1, 2022 | Phillips

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  • An Auction debut for the artist, Brett Crawford’s 3MO SUPPORT is an homage to a plethora of pop culture and contemporary icons from Pinocchio to Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton x Off White Nike sneakers. Based in Southern California, Crawford is a multidisciplinary artist whose works span across painting, sculpture, design, and street murals; each of his works is a cultural exchange between art, fashion, and street culture. Playing with fairy tale imagery and surreal settings, Crawford’s canvases are populated with pop references and contemporary icons that prompt the viewer to seek for hidden stories within, as if going on an Easter egg hunt.


    In October 2022, Charlotte Raybaud, Head of Evening Sale, Hong Kong spoke to Brett Crawford in depth about his background, and on living through a tough childhood and adulthood yet completely turning his life around towards his now skyrocketing artistic career. The artist also takes a deep dive into his inspiration behind the current work, 3MO SUPPORT. Below is an excerpt of their conversation.



    The Beginning


    Charlotte Raybaud: Well, why don't we start with the first question. How did you get started on your career as an artist?

    Brett Crawford: I think that the interesting question is when do you define the career: when you first start making art or when you become a professional artist? I started doing art young, like two or three years old. I don't ever remember a time where I couldn't draw whatever I wanted to draw. [...] And at around probably three or four years old, is when I started using my art to kind of deal with a lot –  really kind of a rough childhood.


    I was raised by criminal[s], thieves and drug addicts. And then I became that for a long time, and I ended up spending about 18 years of my life in jail and in prison. Because once I got it into my head, that's all I could ever be. I just never saw a way out of it. […]


    The last time I got caught, I was facing 12 years […] and I asked the judge if I could go to this programme. And the judge said, I'll never forget his name: Judge Parsons, he said: ‘I'm gonna give you a chance to go fix your life. I'm not worried about whether you do or don't, because you're a horrible criminal. If you don't fix your life, we'll catch you.’ He [Judge Parsons] gave me a choice: you can go to prison for 12 years, or you can go to [Delancey Street Foundation] for 2 years. And I'm not great with math, but I can do that math. And so I said, I'll take two years.


    “That is the hardest thing in the world to do, just to learn how to just be a basic, decent, kind, honest, hardworking human being. And it took me five years to get it down. And now I think I'm pretty good at it, I practise being kind, I go back into jails and prisons and I go and talk to kids and different people who are in trouble, and tell them, ‘Hey, just because you've been doing something for a really long time, doesn't mean you always have to be that way’.”
    — Brett Crawford


    I had a great mentor at Delancey Street Foundation named Dugald Stermer. He is the greatest illustrator you've never heard of, probably. He works for the Smithsonian and National Geographic and things like that. He gave me some advice. [...] And by 2019, I was having nice shows in San Francisco and Los Angeles, had a gallery representing me in LA, a couple of small places in San Diego. And I was showing my work and it was really fulfilling; I was happy with the work that I was making. But I didn't know if I was gonna be able to make it as a career.

    “And it's really, you know, exploded – beyond my most crazy imagination. My entire life - I never thought my life could be what it is right now.”
    — Brett Crawford

    Redemption for Pinocchio


    BC: I have somehow grown really attached to the idea of Pinocchio. Mostly in that I've used lots of different themes throughout my career - using animals to tell human stories, about human emotions or human feelings. There's a lot of therapy that I've learned on fixing my life.
    I think if you ask 10 People who Pinocchio is, 9 of them will say he's a liar – his little nose growing and him telling you a lie. Then in the original story by Carlo Collodi, and the Disney version, and all the different versions they've made over the years, he's this amazing, brave, courageous, adventurous [boy]. He faces down a monster whale to save his father and his friends. And I kind of want that for me: it's not that I fix my life, I don't want my life to be based on all that knucklehead stuff I did in my life, I want it to be based on the hard work I do now and how kind I am to people.


    “The work that I do, the art that I make, and the people's lives that I attach to - that's what I want. So I'm very connected to this idea of Pinocchio. And so what I've done is made it kind of like a new coming of age story where Pinocchio, when it happened to that little brave boy, and so I've made him into like a young adult, in his 20s or 30s.”
    — Brett Crawford


    CR: Well, there's another important part of his narrative: at the end of the story, he becomes a real boy, [though]the lying thing is such a big theme in that story. But as you said, he's there for his father, he's a wonderful little boy and at the end, he breaks away from being the puppet. So there's always this redemption at the end of it, which I think a lot of people forget. So I think it's powerful that you've chosen him as a character in your story.


    BC: […] The way life goes: I went to see the Guillermo del Toro collection [through a friend’s introduction], which is basically all his collection of things that he keeps in his house from all the movies he's made. And he has a wonderful collection of Pinocchio drawings.



    Left: Film Still from Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, 2022 Image: Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo   Right: Detail of the present lot
    Left: Film Still from Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, 2022
    Image: Collection Christophel / Alamy Stock Photo
    Right: Detail of the present lot


    BC: I drew him as a puppet master. And then I drew this one version of Pinocchio. I started using sneakers to date the paintings. I drew just the bottom half of Pinocchio, wearing these Travis Scotts, which was the hottest [shoe] that year, and they kind of date my paintings. [...] The one that I'm using now, for Pinocchio, and then S3lf Made is, what makes us self-made? Is it just your own hard work, or the people you surround yourself [with] and their magic? And drawing that makes more people connected to that image in their own way than any other piece of art.



    Brett Crawford, S3lf Made, 2022 Vinyl Toy Artwork: © Brett Crawford
    Brett Crawford, S3lf Made, 2022
    Vinyl Toy
    Artwork: © Brett Crawford


    BC: For me it was [also] about [how] I didn't know who my father was. I only had these kind of awful stepfather type people in my life. And so 'self-made' for me was about how I tried to become my own man and I didn't do a great job at it for a really long time. And then it became [about] me fixing my life and becoming self-made. In a way, I became cut loose from my puppet strings. And I did that with the help of my version of Jiminy Cricket: all my mentors and buyers and all the different people who are my life; people who really help mentor me and teach me things that I've missed out on.


    “It's a juxtaposition of I'm very cool, but I'm also very insecure.”
    — Brett Crawford

    BC: [...] For me it's really fun to document: I think artists have been documenting current fashion for as long as people could draw the things that they see. I thought that the most simple and best way that made me connect was the art of ‘now’. That's why I try to include pieces of fashion that are very distinctive [like certain Nikes or Louis Vuitton camouflage print], […and] these like Easter eggs date the paintings.


    CR: They are timestamps in a way.


    BC: Yes, they put a big ‘2020’ or ‘2022’. I can mark the painting because if you just use Pinocchio, the first version of that was done in the 1800s. Or if you just use Nike that has been around for 70 years. They say a lot about pop culture.

    CR: I love the word that you used, ‘easter eggs’, there are a few little symbols that we have in the painting that I think would be wonderful to have you elaborate a little bit on it. The first thing that we've noted is the title of the work. You use ‘3’ as your ‘E’ that you've used in Self Made as well. Would you be able to elaborate on that?

    BC: Sure. I think titling my work used to be almost torturous, where I would be too wordy, or I would give too much away about the painting in the title. And then I started using words that have an E and then I would use the replacement. […] Occasionally, I do use the number ‘1’ as an ‘I’ or whatever. But using these numbers make the titles fun. So, if I have an idea for a painting, even if the word for the idea doesn't have an ‘E’ in it, I'll just Google synonyms for whatever the word. 
    And so in this case, ‘Emo’ is short for emotional: so  ‘emo support’ equals ‘emotional support’. And Artemis is the name of this character. She's the eldest child of Pinocchio and his wife. When I think of how any teenager is: full of emotions, trying to figure out who [or] what their identity is, going through the stuff you go through and high school, relationships, and having all these exaggerated emotions and hormones. I put the headphones on the character because of my kid, even at the dinner table will have headphones on and doesn't want to hear anything. [...]



    Detail of the present lot 
    Detail of the present lot 


    BC: It's a juxtaposition of: I'm very cool, but I'm also very insecure. And the stuffed animal as a friend that has these kinds of buttons for eyes, that you can put whatever emotion you want. Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you silly? His ears were our Easter egg. The pattern on his ears is the pattern for Louis Vuitton Off White. It's all for that beautiful kind of brown and I put that same shoe in another painting called 'Together'. I really love that pattern. So, I put that pattern as an easter egg for people who have a keen eye for fashion.



    Left: Detail of Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 Low Source  Right: Detail of the present lot
    Left: Detail of Virgil Abloh’s Louis Vuitton x Nike Air Force 1 Low

    Right: Detail of the present lot


    BC: Then you asked about the patch that's on her Beanie. That's from a guy in Los Angeles who has this great shop that has all these amazing patches that are sometimes funny, sometimes positive. I think a teenager having that patch saying ‘optimist 100% positive’ is a little sarcastic.


    “For the optimist 100% positive patch, those are just like little easter eggs for people who are in the know about fashion and fun for them to discover. So it's really been really fun to figure out ways, lots of different sides of the story, but also find lots of different ways to help people connect to the work.”
    — Brett Crawford

    CR: Would you be able to speak to the colours and the background of the work that we have in 3MO SUPPORT?


    What immediately struck me about the colour of the background is that the left side is predominantly orange, you have some yellows in there and then there's the figure with her cuddly toy. Then on the right side there's this redness, it's sort of transitions, almost like a sunset from left to right. It's two different colours. So I was wondering whether that had anything to do with the story that you're trying to evoke?



    Detail of the present lot
    Detail of the present lot


    BC: Sometimes, yes, there is teenage angst, the flesh on the cheek, the red can be embarrassment or excitement and things like that. And then the going towards the orange and yellow is less about the emotion and more how I play with light and light sources, the shadow[s] are like implying what the past is. I repeated [the] theme in my work too, [this] use of shadows in the background.

    “Those shadows, for me, are like past memories or past thoughts or past mistakes. They can be past accomplishments. But the reason I put those shadows in there is not just to push the character forward in the painting, and give a kind of a 3D effect, but it's also me continuing to talk about [not getting] stuck in your past that's behind us. The shadows are behind you.”
    — Brett Crawford


    CR: It reminds me a little bit of Peter Pan actually, as well. You know, if we want to talk about fairy tales and stories that have been around for a long time, how he sews his shadow back on.

    BC: Yeah, it is like an alter ego.

    CR: You were speaking at the beginning of this interview about being proud of yourself, I think you have more than enough reason to be just listening to all of this. Something that's really striking to me is that every single little thing that has happened to you is fuelling every single thing that you're doing right now. You're not isolating any part of your experience. You are taking it in your stride and it's feeding back into your work, and it's feeding back into what you're doing to give back to the community. I think it's wonderful.



    Phillips would like to thank Brett Crawford for his time in taking this interview.

    • Provenance

      Acquired directly from the artist by the present owner




signed with the artist's initials 'BC' in the centre; further signed, titled and dated '"3MO SUPPORT" 2022 Brett Crawford' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
100 x 100 cm. (39 3/8 x 39 3/8 in.)
Painted in 2022.

Full Cataloguing

HK$600,000 - 800,000 

Sold for HK$2,016,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in association with Yongle

Hong Kong Auction 1 December 2022