Photo by Jonathan Jovel

Rediscovering Childhood: Brent Estabrook’s Artistic Homage to Play

Based in LA, artist Brent Estabrook, has been winning fans over with his brightly coloured, playful, and happy large-scale paintings of stuffed animals and toys. With a joyful, yet growth-oriented approach, Brent combines challenging techniques with a childlike sense of joy, creating textured and vibrant compositions. We had the chance to speak with Brent while he was in London preparing for an upcoming show about his artistic journey, influences, what matters most, and exciting new projects.

Can you tell us about your journey as an artist? What initially inspired you to pursue a career in art?

I had originally planned to become a dentist actually, but I studied art in college because in order to get into dental school I just needed a degree. I really fell in love with oil painting then, but it wasn’t until my last year of dental school that I realized that I really did not enjoy the work and while it was a good, safe option, I didn’t want to spend my life doing something I hated. There was a moment that I just knew it was art that I wanted to pursue, so I went all in.

What artists or art movements have had the most influence on your work?

I was often told early on in my career to go to museums and galleries to get inspiration. And while there is so much value in that, especially the large-scale paintings and beautiful frames, I have also wanted to tell my own story without being overly influenced by other artists. I wanted to be unique in the world. That said, artists that have influenced me include George Condo, Wayne Theibaud, Walt Disney, and James Jean.

I also get inspiration from listening to jazz music. I love that many jazz songs challenge the listener to consider whether the song is “correct” or not. I am currently playing around with this idea in my art. The other day, I had a drip in a painting that I would have tried to cover in the past, but now I let it be. It captures the moment in which the painting occurred and that is enough for me.

How do you approach the use of color in your work? What role does it play in conveying the message or emotion you intend?

Color might be the single most important aspect of my art. I probably spend about 80% of my time mixing colors, vibrant color is what I’m known for, and color is the first thing viewers notice about my paintings. From the complementary color schemes I love to use, to the vibrancy of the colors to my color mixing process, color is the foundation of my work.

The main message I want to convey with my art is that positivity is powerful, and intentionally cultivating positive emotions like joy, nostalgia, wonder, and happiness can change your whole life. I have to be feeling these states to create the paintings that convey those emotions so color mixing has become a deep, meditative practice. The paintings begin to speak to me before I even touch the canvas, as I mix the paints.

Photo by Michelle Mosqueda

Many of your pieces feature stuffed animals and toys. What draws you to these subjects, and what do they symbolize in your art?

I spent an afternoon with my niece and nephew almost ten years ago, who were 5 and 7 at the time. It was a year after I graduated from dental school and they were showing me all their stuffed animals and throwing them into a pile. Artistically, I remember looking down and thinking, this is very interesting, the colors, the textures, etc. but what hit me on a deeper level was what THEY were feeling. There was so much joy, love, and passion just radiating from them, I could tell they were having the time of their life. It is that passion, that joy that I realized I wanted to instill in my art.

These positive emotions of joy, wonder, happiness, playfulness, passion, and love are so powerful and I think that as adults we tend to lose some of that, especially the joy, playfulness, and unfiltered wonder and passion for life that we had as kids. I wanted my art to remind all of us, kids and grown ups alike, of that passion. I wanted to create art that above all, inspired joy. That is what the stuffed animals symbolize… joy and wonder and happiness.

You’re here in London with Maddox gallery. What brought you to town? What are you working on?

I have worked with Maddox before, both last summer in a residency and with Art Miami last December. I have a solo show coming up with them in Switzerland this July and August and so we decided to do a private studio event this summer together to work on some of the paintings that will be showing in Switzerland. Also, my wife is in town filming “Celebs go dating” as one of the matchmakers.

Favourite things about London?

I love the gardens, absolutely love them. I’m finding so much inspiration in gardens right now. I also love the diversity and busy hustle of the city, riding the Tube everyday is a pretty cool adventure. I love the architecture, the history, and museums, especially The National Gallery and The Wallace Collection that I just went to see. And the food! People say British food isn’t great but I find that to be entirely untrue. I love it.

What else is in the pipeline for you?

The big one is the “Smiles & Friends” art-inspired plushie line I’m launching. We are doing a big pop up in LA July 12-14 for my birthday and there will be plushies, paintings, prints, and other really cool collectibles that I have spent so much time spearheading the design and obsessing over the details. It is going to be great. I also have a show coming up in July and August in Switzerland with the Maddox Gallery in Gstaad.

But one of the big things I am really eager to explore is really creating just for the sake of creating. I know flowers and gardens will be subject matters that I explore soon because they have been a huge part of my life. There are also an endless amount of collaborations that I have been thinking about, to whom I can collaborate with for Smiles. I have also been giving some thought to the digital world… no idea where that is going to go yet, but it is exciting to think about.