Exclusive Interview: Bryan Schnelle

In anticipation of Suicide Machine opening this Saturday, August 8th

Interview by Gallery Three

Bryan Schnelle portrait

Bryan Schnelle is concerned about the world. He depicts the flawless beauties of our time as we might find them in magazine spreads or on the big screen, but don’t take this as an affirming gesture. By masking the faces of America’s stars, Bryan highlights the lies being fed through our televisions and computer screens. His work advertises the imperfect nature of our aesthetic heroes, but if you blink, you might miss it.

Born and raised in Long Beach, California, Bryan is a lighthearted and amiable guy. He wears the demeanor of a California carefree spirit, yet he is sensitive to Hollywood’s contaminating hold on society. Bryan isn’t afraid to tell it as it is, and we are ready to hear it.

Bryan Schnelle studio

Name: Bryan James Schnelle

Hometown: Long Beach, CA

Current status: Ball and chain. (JK I love you Erika!!)

Word to your: Um…bartender?

Last time you used a pen: A couple minutes ago.

If your show were a color it would be: Black.

Beverage of choice: Margaritas, with chips and salsa.

Last book you picked up: Seven Days in the Art World. Yeah, I’m a nerd.

Coffee or weed: Coffee!!!

Best eats: SUSHI.

Justin Giarla is: A nice man who took one look at my work and offered me not one, but two solo shows, ten minutes after first meeting me over the telephone.

Best Tenderloin experience: The Incredibly positive response from the community that I received while installing my show, “Chaos A.D,” on Sixth St. in 2008 (except for that one tranny who wanted to kill me).

Bryan Schnelle art

Do you have a love/hate relationship with fashion and celebrities?

I am interested in our culture’s obsession with money and celebrities and the fact that all you need to become famous is a trust fund. Anyone can be the next superstar, as long as they’re rich. They don’t need to possess any kind of talent or even be interesting. I think that’s absurd.

Bryan Schnelle art

Why do you view money as a destructive force in contemporary society?

It tends to bring out the worst in people. I mean just look at the current state of our planet. Human greed has changed the earth so dramatically in the last 100 years, killing off plants and animals, changing the climate, poisoning the soil, causing irreparable harm to a very delicate and precise system.

Most of this destruction can be traced back to the petroleum industry and other giant shot-calling corporations (money). These are the people making the decisions that affect everyone (money=power). Money is God. The pursuit of money has taken priority over reason, sanity, and accountability. And it’s the CEO’s giving the politicians hand jobs in the cockpit of the Suicide Machine, controlling the fucking thing.

Bryan Schnelle Fuck Your Money

What are your sources of inspiration?

I draw inspiration from all that I encounter. A walk to the liquor store, a documentary on water, Norwegian black metal, a vague memory, a funeral, a Mogwai show.  It then goes through some kind of crazy filter in my brain and what we’re left with are these weird, uncomfortable works of art.

When did it become clear to you that being an artist was the right thing to do?

I believe that you are either born an artist or you’re not. It may lay dormant for some time, but I think more often than not it presents itself at a fairly young age. There just simply wasn’t anything else that made sense for me to be doing.

Bryan Schnelle studio shot

How has your career influenced the art you create?

Well, my career is my art. What I think you’re talking about is my jobby-job. Yes, it’s true: I dig graves for a living. I don’t really know how much influence it has on my art, but I will say that it has helped shape the person I am today. It’s a very dark, silent, and peaceful job. And it’s pure, honest labor.

I’d say the best thing about my job is the complete disconnection between my brain and what I’m physically doing. There’s a lot of time to think.

Bryan Schnelle masks

Why do you choose to expose the eyes and mouths of your characters but hide their faces?

These are the things that convey emotion and offer clues. I’ve been drawing people since I was a little kid and the masked figures started entering my work around 2005. I guess I just really like the tension they bring to the work; it’s about the uncertainty of who people really are.
Who is the masked figure?

The masked figure is an unknown. When you see someone wearing a mask, they’re hiding who they really are and probably don’t have the best intentions. That’s a metaphor for our society as a whole and how we interact with each other.

Bryan Schnelle vanity fair cover

What are the masked individuals hiding from?

I don’t want to assign one specific meaning to these images. I tend to look at them as a metaphor for fakeness or bullshit, which plenty of people are full of, but that’s just me. So if you were to look at it that way, they’d be hiding from themselves.

Bryan Schnelle process shot

Do you view it as a negative thing that humans mask their “true selves”?


If your masked characters could talk, what would they say?


Why are there more females than males represented in your portraits?

My work is a reflection of our society and the media. The majority of images in magazines tend to be young white women, either celebrities or some kind of model, and so that majority tends to filter into the work.

Bryan Schnelle Untitled

If you could describe your art in five words, what would it be?

Abrasive, reflective, funny, sincere, and gangsta.

How do you add a comical aspect to your work?

That’s not always easy. I mean how do you make light of global warming or peak oil? There’s some pretty scary stuff going on, and an almost entirely unpredictable future just a few years ahead of us.

A lot of the things I’m dealing with in my work are super depressing, but I don’t necessarily want to make depressing work, and I definitely don’t want to make preachy work. I want it to either have some kind of subtle humor or some kind of crazy rad energy to it. You should be able to feel that I had fun making it.

Bryan Schnelle art

How would you describe your creative process?

My process is pretty pure and straightforward. It starts with a vision, then it bounces around in my head for a while until it becomes clear enough to physically execute. Then I just go for it. I’ve learned to trust myself and to trust the vision. I figure it must be there for a reason.

Bryan Schnelle art

Don’t miss the opening for Suicide Machine on Saturday, August 8th, from 7-11pm at Gallery Three.

Please contact the gallery for inquiries.


3 responses to “Exclusive Interview: Bryan Schnelle

  1. Yes, I am Bryan’s grandma and YES!!! He certainly was born an artist. How do I know that? Because he has never ceased making art. It’s something he has to do; it’s a passion. I don’t believe passion can be learned; I think there has to be a seed in our souls that sprouts and grows and demands attention. It may be suppressed, it must be satisfied, but it never dies!

    You go, Grandson!

  2. Oops! Cyberspace has me…I just wanted to LEAVE a comment, then leave!



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